Category Archives: Conference

Hollywood Veteran, Writer, and Professor Trai Cartwright Talks Craft and Career

by Lindsey Lewis Smithson

Colorado based writer Trai Cartwright has taught, produced, and learned her craft from nearly every aspect possible. She started her career at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, spent time working for Leonardo DiCaprio, founded a youth writing camp, and happened to work in Hollywood for nearly 20 years.  The Castle Rock Writers are proud, once again, to be able to bring Trai, her talents and her enthusiasm, to the Annual Conference at the PACE Center in Parker on November 7th.

Throw In the Rust-Proofing and Undercoating, Too, by Becky Clark

This chapter from the novel “Banana Bamboozle” by Becky Clark placed in the

 top ten of a comedy writing contest.

            The salesgirl held up two choices for Cassidy. “The Don’t Despair lifts the tush and supports the midsection. The Magic Miss Miracle is more of a bust-to-knee—”

Cassidy grabbed it. “The Magic Miss Miracle. Perfect. Ring it up.”

“Don’t you want to try it on?”

“It comes in Missus, right? Or maternity? It’ll be fine. I believe in miracles. And I need one.”

“What about an outfit? Where are you going?”

“Mexican restaurant.” Cassidy mentally ransacked her closet. “Do you have anything guacamole-and-salsa-colored? Never mind. No time.”

Cassidy was fifty-two years old and getting ready for her first date since before the birth of Justin Bieber. Before Monica Lewinsky decided she needed a new blue dress. Before Joey Buttafuoco became the buttafuoco of jokes.

After gasping at the price and reluctantly handing over her credit card, Cassidy flew to the day spa and burst through the door. Four indistinguishable blonde 20-something girls waited for her in the reception area. Cassidy didn’t slow as they surrounded her like androids and quick-marched her through gauzy curtains. She wouldn’t have been surprised to see a contrail behind them.

“We heard it was crunch time. Cleared the schedule. I’m Emma, I’ll be doing your manicure,” the first one said. “Ellie will be doing your pedi. That’s Ellory, in charge of waxing, but we’ll all help. And that’s Alice. She’s on tanning.”

“My own pit crew. Let’s get these tires rotated, ladies!”

They began in the waxing room. Hot wax coated her from all directions. She flinched rhythmically as hair was ripped from her body. Cassidy forgot to remind them of the private neighborhoods in her personal municipality that didn’t need the Public Works Department. At the last minute, Cassidy convinced them to use only the trimmer around her Recreation Center. They argued, citing traffic concerns, but finally conceded. When they flipped her to her stomach, she saw the pile of hairy muslin strips on the floor like so many cartoon moustaches.

When they were done, they helped her off the table. She took a wide stance and they went to work with spatulas and bottles of oil, scraping off the sticky bits like she was a pancake griddle.

The four girls worked silently. Cassidy hoped they were concentrating on the job but realized they were probably rethinking their career choice. Nobody jumped out of bed and shouted, “Yippee! Today I’m going to inspect an old lady for stray body hair and wax bits.”

Emma handed her a robe and led her to a dimly-lit room where soft classical music played. A steamy tub of vanilla-scented water beckoned. Ah, this is more like it. Emma pointed out the best soap to remove the oil, then left. Cassidy stepped into the tub and sank into its warmth.

As her muscles considered relaxing, there was a rap on the door. It opened immediately. “Ready for you,” Alice said.

“I just got in. I haven’t even soaped up yet.”

“Okay.” Instead of leaving, Alice squirted some spearmint botanical soap in her hands and rubbed them together. “Left leg.”

Cassidy raised her left leg out of the tub and Alice soaped it from mid-thigh to between her toes, making Cassidy giggle, despite the seriousness of the situation.

“Left arm.” Alice grabbed Cassidy’s hand and soaped from wrist to tricep to armpit across boobage to belly button and back again. Again, Cassidy giggled, even while willing herself not to.

“Right leg.” Soap, giggle, rinse.

“Right arm.” Soap, giggle, rinse.

Alice handed her a soft cloth, pointed to her face and commanded, “Scrub.” Cassidy did as she was told while Alice pulled the plug in the tub.

“Stand.”

Cassidy stood.

Alice took the shower nozzle and sprayed her, rinsing stray soap bubbles down the drain. She held out a towel. “Dry.” When Cassidy was dry, Alice helped her back into her robe and led her to the tiny spray tan room. There was just enough space for the two of them to maneuver on the 4 x 4 canvas tarp stained with dozens of shades of brown. Alice handed her a paper thong and a hair net. Cassidy stared at the thong. “You’re worried about my modesty now?”

Alice shrugged. “Ever had an airbrush tan?” Cassidy shook her head. “Stand like this. Arms like this.” Cassidy mimicked her. “When I say ‘Face’ that means I’m doing your, you know, face. So close your eyes, hold your breath, and do your lips like this.” Alice tucked in her lips and so did Cassidy. “Ready?” Cassidy’s tucked lips could only manage a weird bleating noise.

Alice fired up a hand-held device that looked like a garden hose attachment for poisoning weeds. Cassidy stood as directed while Alice painted her body with Bronze Buff. When she finished, about twenty minutes later, she shut off the compressor. “Fifteen minutes to dry.” She turned on banks of box fans, stacked floor-to-ceiling on three sides of the tiny room. “Stand in front of the fans with your arms up until I come get you. And don’t scratch. Even if you itch.”

Cassidy wasn’t itchy until that very moment. Fifteen minutes is an eternity when all you can think of is not scratching. Finally Alice came back with a very lightweight — and except for a few well-placed butterflies and flowers — mostly see-through sleeveless shift. Cassidy grabbed for her robe but Alice got to it first. “Too heavy. Ruin your tan.” She helped her into the shift and Cassidy snapped it up the front.

The final stage of her transformation was her mani/pedi. Emma worked on her hands, Ellie on her feet. They soaked, scrubbed, polished and buffed while Cassidy sat in the massage chair and got kneaded, pummeled, smoothed and soothed.

Four hours and twenty-seven minutes after rushing through the door of the Head to Toe Day Spa, she rushed out again and headed home to finish getting ready for her date.

Those enchiladas better be worth it.

Interview with Cheri Gonzales, Swallow Hill Music Director of School Operations

 by Tania Urenda

The vision of Swallow Hill Music is to positively improve the quality of people’s lives through music. How does Swallow Hill Music fulfill this vision with the Young Songwriter’s competition? 

The vision of Swallow Hill Music is to positively improve the quality of people’s lives through music. How does Swallow Hill Music fulfill this vision with the Young Songwriter’s competition?

The vision of Swallow Hill Music is to positively improve the quality of people’s lives through music. How does Swallow Hill Music fulfill this vision with the Young Songwriter’s competition? 

I think the children and teens who we serve provide us with the most honest reaction to the programming we provide. You can tell instantly by their level of enthusiasm what music they absolutely love and also when they find the learning of certain skills completely boring. I’ve found this is most seen in the teen age range, which is the primary age group for the Young Songwriter’s Competition.

The teens who participate in the competition want to be involved. I mostly hear from the participants directly; they rarely contact me through their parents. They go through all the steps of the submission process and are completely on top of deadlines and email responses. I believe our vision is seen throughout this competition through challenging these young adults creatively and professionally through the power and process of music. Once we arrive at the live competition I’ve been able to witness the parents of the contestants listening to what their children have created. That positive reaction and pre and post-show encouragement is also completely exemplary of our vision as an organization.

How does songwriting benefit today’s youth? 

I have always found songwriting to be much like journaling – a way for anyone to express any feelings and organize them in whatever way they choose. I think the concept of just writing thoughts and feelings down is huge for today’s youth, and the concept of actually putting those words and phrases to song challenges them even more. It’s like a beautiful puzzle that fits together just as they want it to.

Besides the prizes awarded by your organization, what benefits do the competitors experience during the competition process?  

The participants go through a submission process and a waiting period to see if they have been selected to participate in the competition, which is based on a point system for various criteria. They also go through a pre-show sound check process and use a green room so they are really experiencing the competition as if it were any other live production.

What is your favorite part of working with youth and their musical passions?

Another program we offer at Swallow Hill Music is our House of Rock program. We offer six House of Rock summer camps for teens ages 13-18 and every summer I witness campers transform over the course of each week-long camp. Not only do they learn more about themselves as musicians but they learn how to work constructively within a group of kids with similar goals and passions. You might see a timid 13-year-old the first day of camp who’s very soft-spoken and nervous and by the last day that same camper is shredding an electric guitar solo at the performance.  

Do you have any advice for young songwriters who might be starting out and those wanting to succeed the in music industry?

I would advise them to never be afraid to try something new or challenging. Say “yes” as much as possible to performance opportunities, because actively participating is the best way to learn. I would also encourage young songwriters to be themselves and not try to write lyrics or melodies just because it’s what’s popular at the time – create material that is completely unique to you as an individual. If that means hitting a trash can as your drum and chanting, do it.

Interview with Thomas Koenigs – 2015 Swallow Hill Young Songwriter Competition Winner

by Tania Urenda

Tania: What school and grade were you attending when you won the Swallow Hill Young Songwriter competition?

Thomas: I was a sophomore at Regis Jesuit High School when I was awarded with the Grand Prize at the Swallow Hill Youth Songwriter competition.

Tania: What was the name of the song you wrote for the competition? What kind of song is it?

Thomas: I wrote a song called, “Beat the Drum,” a positive title for a much darker song. It tells a story, that’s all I can really say.

Tania: Do you consider songwriting an expression of poetry?

Thomas: Of course. Poetic expression can’t be confined to one device. I’ve read and researched Marina Abramovic more than I’d like to admit. During one performance piece, she gnaws into a raw onion. Whatever that artistic expression means, damn, I’ll never know. But that doesn’t matter. Who am I to judge her? Expression does not and should not require justification or explanation. If eating an onion is art, then songwriting better damn well be poetry.

Tania: Did your love of music start with songwriting, singing, or playing a musical instrument? How do you feel that benefited you?

Thomas: It started with listening. I sat for hours with my parents as they worked. I picked up on melodies from The Beatles to The Beach Boys, The Temptations to The Jackson Five. Slowly but surely, I found myself being able to mimic the progressions on the piano and later on the guitar. Being able to strengthen that skill has given me the ability to hum a tune and try it out on various instruments.

Tania: Where does your inspiration come from? Experiences? People? Feelings?

Thomas: My inspiration comes from events. I’ve written some songs about feelings, but I guess I can explain myself much better through someone or something else.

Tania: What process do you use for songwriting, I.e. do you start with a musical chorus or words? What tools help you create?

Thomas: I always have a vague tune in mind, but most of the words are buried in my head. Literally. When it becomes too much, something is bound to fall out. The trick is waiting.

Tania: How many songs have you written? How do you test or share your pieces?

Thomas: I’ve written about 25 songs in total. But quantity is not quality. I try to slip songs in while playing for parents or siblings. My folks don’t sugarcoat. Both are lawyers and very opinionated. If they don’t like something, I’ll get the message.

Tania: Have you experienced failure? Do you have any advice for someone your age who is struggling with rejection or lacks inspiration?

Thomas: Sure I have, and I’m not embarrassed. I used to be really shy about my music, but then someone told me that music is an expression of the self. We aren’t perfect people, but we grow. Good music reflects that imperfection and personal growth.

Tania: What kind of issues do you care about?

Thomas: I care about any issue really. The song I sang at the competition was about Daniel Johnston, Sid Vicious, and Phil Spector, and how brilliant but crazy they were. My most recent song is about Ferguson. I’d have to say I concern myself with issues that many are concerned about.

Tania: What did winning this contest mean to you? What was your favorite part of the competition? Was there an opportunity to network or collaborate with fellow musicians/writers?

Thomas: I felt honored to even be considered for it and even more to win. Though I had fun performing, I had even more fun meeting new people. Swallow Hill is almost like a second home. I met up with people that I can now collaborate with, but also just be with. Swallow Hill people are my people.

Poetry and Youth Songwriting:

Part I. Welcoming SETH

Poetry intimidates me. I literally cringe when I think about writing stanzas. And yet each day, poetry resonates within me in the form of music. It calms me through Denver’s frustrating rush hour, pushes me during a dreadful workout, and makes my heart soar when my children sing their sweet melodies. It transcends age, gender, race and even geography as it unites us as a people. And it’s so very therapeutic. We cry. We scream. We laugh. Even a star like Taylor Swift used poetry and songwriting to work through the emotional turmoil of being a bullied outcast in her younger years. Poetry in songwriting is not only a safe and creative way to find solace, but by sharing our deep secrets, emotions and experiences, songwriters help others cope with similar feelings, both good and bad. It’s no wonder that reading, writing, and music carry so much weight with teens as they traverse through some of the most volatile and confusing parts of their lives.

This is why I was extremely excited when the speaker coordinator for the Castle Rock Writers, Susan Rocco-McKeel, asked SETH, local poet, performer, writer, and instructor, to lead a workshop at this year’s CRW conference on November 7. SETH will be leading an interactive workshop for young writers entitled the “Poetry of Writing Song Lyrics.” SETH – always capitalized – ­will be one of ten workshop leaders teaching an exciting array of writing classes with topics ranging from research to the art of writing to getting published.

SETH has been teaching the mastery of literary arts and creative expression since 1999. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t reading poetry that led SETH to becoming a poet; it was the poetry he heard in song lyrics that provided the initial spark. For his workshop, he’ll be sharing a technique he calls the “extended metaphor.” In an interview with CRW he explained, “You start with a metaphor, say using a zoo to describe what your heart is going through. Think of all the things you associate with the zoo. The various animals. The zoo keeper. Cages. The ‘Do Not Feed’ signs.” During his workshop, SETH will help guide attendees transform these extended metaphor associations into verses and choruses. This is the first time CRW has offered such a unique and exciting opportunity for poets and songwriters.

“It’s a simple technique, but once you’ve mastered the concept, you’re well on the road to writing great lyrics,” said SETH.

As writers we know to always, always, always have something to write on, no matter the day, time or place. A notebook, tablet, napkin…doesn’t matter. Inspiration will hit you when you least expect it. But if you’re struggling for inspiration, SETH has some advice. “Relax. Eventually it will come. Follow your own intuitions and something uniquely you will emerge.” He explains that his most original, innovative stories and poems occurred when he was not taking himself or what he wrote too seriously – instead tinkering and playing with words and form.

During the Castle Rock Writers Conference SETH will have CDs and books available. His book Black Odyssey (2013) encompasses everything from love, death, soul searching and “trying [to] make sense of this psychotic sea called existence.”

SETH performs at the “Jam before the Slam” which he hosts at the Mercury Café in Denver every Sunday night from 7 to 8 pm. His band, Art Compost & the Word Mechanics, improvises with his poetry and the poetry of anyone who is willing to share. Videos of his jams can be found on his website at www.wagingart.com. The full interview with SETH can be found at www.CastleRockWriters.com/updates.

The yearly Castle Rock Writers conference is known for its supportive and intimate workshops. Everyone who attends shares a passion and pure joy for the written word. I guarantee you’ll leave with new friends and inspiration to last you for months to come. For the first time the annual conference will take place at the Parker Arts, Culture and Events Center (PACE), 20000 Pikes Peak Avenue in Parker. Registration is $85, which includes a catered lunch and a literary pitch for writers with a manuscript or idea. High school students in grades 11 and 12 and those in college enjoy the same benefits as adults, but at a discounted price of $35. Educators can attend for $45. Price at the door is $95 and does not include the catered lunch. Check-in starts at 8 a.m. Workshop sessions end at 4:30 p.m. Registered, published authors can sell their books at the conference bookstore run by the BookBar.

A pre-conference Friday night event will feature a panel of attorneys speaking on Intellectual Property Rights for writers. Price for the Friday event is $10 with conference registration or $20 at the door.

More information on the 2015 Castle Rock Writers Conference can be found at www.CastleRockWriters.com or email CRW at CastleRockWriters@gmail.com">CastleRockWriters@gmail.com for more information.

Castle Rock Writers Success Story

Interview with teen author Anastasia Zhivotov – By Susan Rocco-McKeel

anastasiazhivotov

Anastasia Zhivotov

“Without [Trai Cartwright], I’m not sure I would have a book out. Without the [Castle Rock Writers] Conference, I’m not sure I would have made it out of my room.”- Anastasia Zhivotov

Anastasia Zhivotov hit a low point after experiencing what she considered to be a rejection of her creativity in the dance world. “I was bummed, I was weak, I was a zombie.”

After having coffee, a flyer for Castle Rock Writers 2012 Writers Conference caught her eye. “It said all ages and included a few free bribes like pitches …”. She immediately called Alice Aldridge-Dennis, the Conference’s co-director, and introduced herself as a teen writer. Anastasia’s relentless muse combined with her father’s encouragement, and Alice’s information, resulted in scheduling a pitch.

This was August 28, 2012. Anastasia had a pitch scheduled, but no manuscript. She struggled with her writing and then her “computer keys finally got fed finger grease”.
Anastasia met Trai Cartwright, a workshop presenter, at the Conference in October, 2012, and was “in awe”. They exchanged emails. Trai mentored Anastasia through the completion of her book. Anastasia was an eager student who remembers standing in the snow taking notes with a blue pen for an hour after their first edit. “I got a cold of course, but more importantly, I had a plan.”

Her novel, Alice in Reality, graphically scrutinizes the stress leading to addiction in teens. “I want to get the truth out. Drugs and parties happen.” Anastasia imbues her writing with her Russian culture. As she says, she was born in Colorado but raised Russian and her writing voice reflects this.

With an enviable work ethic, Anastasia manages writer’s block by writing. She will continue to wrestle with an idea until she forms a shape out of it. If she is still struggling, she will take a break to do something like cooking and then return to the keyboard.
She says that for her, writing is not only a passion but an extension of breathing for she feels “as if the arts are the only way to be freed.”

Anastasia and her mentor, Trai Cartwright, will address the 2013 Castle Rock Writers Conference attendees during lunch. Alice in Reality is available from Amazon and Trafford online.
-Susan Rocco-McKeel; November 12, 2013

Castle Rock Writers holds a yearly conference in the Castle Rock area, open to writers from youth to adult from all over the front range.  The conference includes a variety of workshops, agent and publisher pitches, a keynote speaker, and a conference book store where participants and workshop leaders may place their books.

The conference is a one-day event held at the Douglas County Events Center at the Fairgrounds in Castle Rock.

Student Interviews


Julianne Marsh – Interview Tania Urenda

As a 9th grade student at Mountain Vista High school what type of reading do you generally enjoy the most away from school? Are there certain genres that you prefer over others and why?

Julianne: Away from school, I really enjoy reading the whole Young Adult section. I mean, dystopian, fantasy, realistic fiction, paranormal–they all appeal to me. I guess what I read really depends on how I feel on that particular day. The one constant is that it’s all YA, but I do dig those adult murder mysteries and horror stories.

What are the last two novels that you chose to read? How did these resonate to you and your friends?

Julianne: The last two books I read were continuations of two series’ that I have grown to love. The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey and  The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan were the two I finished this week. My friends and I all love both of these authors, and these new books were not a disappointment.

What are your current writing aspirations? What do you like to write? Which genre? Do you have one major project or many smaller ones?

Julianne: I like to say that I don’t settle down when it comes to writing a certain genre. I have a lot of ideas that do not correlate with each other whatsoever. I am trying to find a good genre where I can satisfy all of my ideas, yet it’s my strong point. Right now, I’d say realistic fiction is what I’m working on. Project wise, I work on one major project, but I keep tabs on all my ideas.

With homework and other activities, when do you find time to write?

Julianne: It’s difficult to find time to write, that’s for sure. However, if I tell myself “I will write today,” I can do it. NaNoWriMo and weekends are times where I get a lot done.

What inspires your writing? What do you love about writing?

Julianne: I think that reading inspires my writing. I want to create something that others, and myself, can read and really be drawn into the story. I love that with writing you can make a world different from your own; there are no limits.

Do you have a writing mentor? If you do, could you tell me about them and how they have inspired you to write. If not, do you feel that this would be beneficial to your budding writing career? Who is your biggest fan and supporter?

Julianne: I do not have a writing mentor. However, I have good friends that happily give me their thoughts about what I’m writing. I think that when I’m further along in writing projects, having a mentor would be beneficial to making it better. My biggest supporters are probably my friends who edit my work. I edit theirs as well, so it is sort of a critique group.

When complete, will you try to publish your work? If so, what means do you feel would work best for you, traditional publishing with an agent and publishing house or digital self publishing?

Julianne: I would really love to publish my work. I’d say I would prefer to go through a publishing house rather than self-publishing.

What are your writing/publishing goals for the next 5 to 10 years?

Julianne: In the next 5 to 10 years I would love to have had a book published. A lot of work can be done in this time period, so I think I can do it. Also, I really want to have written a lot of diverse things, whether it be horror or a cute romance story.

This year you attended the Castle Rock Writers conference. How do you feel this helped you as a young writer?

Julianne: At the conference, I believe that I learned a lot more about the actual publishing process and what goes into the process of book-making. That was incredibly cool.

Writers attend conference for many reasons, among the reasons are networking  and pitching ideas to agents and publishers. Did you have the opportunity to make connections with some of the workshop leaders, board members, agents or attendees?

Julianne: I was in the Young Adult program, so I connected with more teenagers with similar aspirations. I also met an author and an agent. Everyone was very friendly and open and I feel very welcomed into the world of writing.

Grace Wilson –  Interview By Susan Rocco-McKeel

Gracie Wilson is a delightful young woman who attended the 2014 Conference’s youth sessions. As a writer in 10th grade, Gracie said she thinks the most important thing for people to know about her is that she is “just as passionate a writer as some who have been writing their whole lives.” Although she has explored writing in many genres, her current favorite is historical romance.

Tragedies inspire her. “Take the Titanic, for example. There were almost two thousand people on board. As a writer, I feel that it’s my duty to preserve each and every one of their stories. Every story is different and spectacular in its own bizarre way. The possibilities are endless. If you look up a list of Titanic’s victims, there is something like: “#47. FEMALE, DARK HAIR, YOUNG, GOLD WATCH, NOTE IN POCKET SIGNED E. H. CONNELLY.” Imagine the possibilities of that story! Why does she have a watch? What’s her name? Who’s E. H. Connelly? And the craziest thing is that it’s all real.   I find myself wanting desperately to make the right guess of something close to it, of how that young woman’s life ended.”

There are many authors she reads and admires but the one she respects the most is Jodi Picoult. While Gracie finds many of Picoult’s topics uncomfortable and disagrees with the morals of some of her characters, Gracie praises the method Picoult employs to tackle tough issues, especially Picoult’s extensive research.

“[Picoult’s] work brings up issues in my own life and brings my fear to the surface.” Despite the controversial topics, Gracie finds herself engrossed in Picoult’s stories. Gracie believes this is the hallmark of an accomplished author.

Gracie is committed to practicing her craft as a means to grow as a writer. She “hope[s] to express in [her] writing something powerful, something that will make people stop and think and wonder and go about their lives in a different way.”

Annie Borelli – Interview by Jean Jacobsen

How long have you been writing or expressed an interest in writing? Where are you at in your writing carrier? What is your favorite subject to write about? Which genre do you write in?

Annie: I have been writing books since about third grade. Right now, I am working towards publishing my first book. I like to write most about kids my age. I write in a variety of genres- contemporary, science fiction, and sometimes fantasy.

Describe a couple of the classes you attended at the CRW conference. Was this your first year to attend?

Annie: I attended the CRW conference for the first time with my friend Julianne. We went to two young adult classes and two adult classes. The young adult classes were fairly plot-oriented and the adult classes involved the publication process.

Would you attend another CRW conference? What would be of interest to you as future workshops in writing?

Annie: I would love to attend another conference! I really enjoyed visiting each of the classes and hearing the speaker. As far as future workshops, an in-depth explanation of the publication process especially for teen writers would be awesome.

Interview with Agent Gordon Warnock

California Agent Gordon Warnock
of Foreword Literary – August 18, 2014

Gordon-big

www.forewordliterary.com

Interview by Tania Urenda, agent coordinator
& co-author of Chronicles of Douglas County, CO (July 2014)

Self-promoting is essential in today’s writing market. Authors need a strong platform which usually involves speaking engagements, social media, networking and being an expert in your field or book. What are some of the most time efficient strategies your busiest authors have used to promote their books? Is it possible to fit family life, work and a budding writing career into a 24-hour period?

Gordon: Absolutely. The classic time complaint holds little water because thousands of new and established authors write, work, publish, promote, and live their lives every year. But as with most aspects of this business, there is no magic bullet that will instantly gain optimal results for everyone. It really varies depending upon the strengths of the author and which outlets the material naturally fits. We have a few clients who are absolutely killing it on Instagram right now. And then on the opposite end of the spectrum is the one without any form of social media whatsoever who maximizes her speaking events by tying in local and national traditional media. Regardless of the tools you use, you’ll start seeing the best returns if you approach your writing like a business. Stop thinking of yourself as an author, and start thinking of yourself as an authorpreneur.

Writers Conferences are an exciting and sometimes nerve-wrecking experience for any level of writer. It’s often said that writers are writers, not speakers, for a reason.  Pitch sessions with an agent or editor can fumble if authors come on too strong or are too nervous. What is the best way for an author to approach you when trying to sell themselves and their book? Do you have any horror stories from your earlier years of being an agent or writer that you could share?

Gordon: I have horror stories from a couple weeks ago, mostly of folks who just didn’t prepare. Make it a dialog. One person should not be speaking the entire time. Talk about your manuscript for maybe half of the session and then be prepared to answer questions. Know your manuscript inside and out, know the genre you’re writing into, know your qualifications as an author, and know what your plan is for the success of the book. And to save both you and the agent a lot of time, research the agent before you sign up to pitch. You don’t just want an agent. You want the right agent. I literally had a pitching writer get frustrated and say, “I thought you represent fiction.” I do, but not all of it. In fact, it’s a small portion of my list, and I say so right on my website. If I don’t rep your genre, there are a lot of other agents out there you’re better off contacting.

At the Castle Rock Writers Conference you’ll be presenting a workshop on how to hook an agent and doing some limited critiquing. What are the most common mistakes writers make within the first five pages of their manuscript or proposal? What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Gordon: There are so many mistakes that make an agent stop reading. You have to be compelling, and you have to present tension or at least some sort of imbalance that creates intrigue and must be righted through reading on. If you open with the info dump, large blocks of exposition, or back story, you’ll lose the reader right away. You also have to be on your A game as far as the prose is concerned. This is our first impression of what you can do as a writer, and I simply can’t stick around for 50 pages to see whether or not you have skills, especially if you spend those pages convincing me otherwise. Just as a browsing reader does in a bookstore, an agent must make decisions within a certain window. If I have a pet peeve here, that might be it–writers who don’t understand that or complain about the agent passing on a manuscript without reading the whole thing. Readers often don’t make it through a book before putting it down (or back on the shelf at B&N). That’s just the nature of things.

Fiction writers strive to make characters original and lifelike. In other interviews you’ve also expressed this important aspect of writing.  What are the best ways for doing this?

Gordon: Study humans. We’re an interesting breed. Give your character real human quirks, and don’t base them entirely off of one person or character you’ve read. For example, I get a lot of people pitching me “the next Holden Caulfield.” There already exists a Holden Caulfield. Give me someone new. Really stretch your creative muscle.

In non-fiction writing the author must be a known expert in his or her field and have legitimate credentials. Are there any subjects you feel are underrepresented in the publishing field, ones that are on your bucket list?

Gordon: Not really. They usually end up on my client list instead of my bucket list. For example, I think libraries aren’t given the attention or priority they deserve in society, and I now have an amazing project with the author of the viral photo essay, “This Is What a Librarian Looks Like.” I’m working on the book, Neil Gaiman is narrating the documentary, and we’re getting great support from libraries internationally. We’re making it happen. Also realize that publishing is a multi-faceted ecosystem. There’s a lot more going on than just the projects agents work with.

As a founding partner of Foreword Literary, your agency has been at the forefront of the evolution of traditional publishing into the digital age. Many thought this would herald the end of paper books, publishers and agents. Obviously the end of the world is not coming and bookstores are alive and well, so what new and exciting things do see in the future for your agency and the authors you represent?

Gordon: Mostly things I can’t talk about at the date of this interview. I have the luxury of working with some of the brightest minds in the industry, and we’re always cooking up new ideas and new ways for our authors to succeed in this ever-changing, highly competitive marketplace. As for things that can be talked about, we have an amazing list of fall releases. Here are a few Sept/Oct highlights:

DRAGON’S BREATH AND OTHER TRUE STORIES by MariNaomi is out Sept. 9th. If you’ve never had comics profoundly touch your heart, check her out. She’ll make you feel.

FALLING INTO PLACE, the debut by 18-year-old phenom Amy Zhang, is out the same day. This one has received crazy good press, and there’s plenty more we can’t mention.

THE BOOK OF KINDLY DEATHS by Eldritch Black is out Sept. 16th. Having grown up on Goosebumps, I’m a tremendous fan of this twisted storyteller. 

The first in the TALON series by NYT bestseller Julie Kagawa releases on Oct. 28th. Universal optioned it and Chris Morgan is writing the screenplay. 

MARTYR, the first in THE HUNTED series by A.R. Kahler, releases the same day. Keep an eye on this author. He’s a rising star. 

If you’ve done any research into the publishing field, you will have heard about the massive slush piles that loom in the darkest corners of every agency. How often do the slush piles see the light of day and how much better are the odds of being represented after a pitch session at a conference verses being found in a slush pile?

Gordon: Yeah, I’ve researched that a bit, and in my experience, you’re much more likely to get a request from a conference. But that means nothing if the work doesn’t deliver on the promise of the pitch. I’ve signed (and sold) way more from the slush than I have from conferences, though there are gems to be found in all methods of submission. Except from the one where you slide the manuscript under the restroom stall. You’ll never get a book deal that way.

Gordon will be participating on an Agent Panel on Friday, October 3rd, 2014 for our Pre-conference event, “Reading Through the Slush Pile, Agents Share their Thoughts.” He will also be accepting a limited number of verbal pitches and written critiques during the 2014 CRW Conference and presenting the workshop, “How to Hook an Agent.” Conference date is Saturday, October 4th, 2014. Look under the Conference page for more information.