James River Writers Annual Conference 2018: Coincidence? I Think Not.

I should’ve known everything was going to fall into place when, Friday morning, my dryer finished drying my clothes at the same instant I unlocked my back door to leave for the Master Classes I’d registered for as part of this year’s James River Writers Annual Conference. (I don’t like the washer or dryer running when I’m not home.)

Actually, my first sign that the universe is in harmony came about a week earlier. When I registered for the conference back in September, one of the two Master Classes I wanted to attend (like, really, really wanted to attend) was full. Just a few days before the conference, though, I got an e-mail informing me a space had opened up, my refund hadn’t yet been processed, and I could attend the class after all. It was perfectly serendipitous.

I attended both of the Master Classes I had hoped to attend on Friday, and went home, thinking no more about it.

And then Saturday happened.

“Write every day.”–Pavana Reddy

As with the Friday Master Class I had wanted to attend, every single literary agent with whom I had hoped to meet had been completely booked. My first stop upon arriving at the conference Saturday morning was the pitch table, where I wanted to add my name to a waiting list to pitch to an agent at some point during the weekend. I was hoping for a particular agent, but I was willing to meet with any agent who might have an opening, so long as I got to meet an agent and practice my pitch.

“Which agent’s waiting list do you want to be on?” the man behind the table asked me.

I hadn’t even finished saying her name before the woman behind me jumped to my side.

“Well this might help you out,” she said, and then turned to the man. “I’m actually here to cancel my 2:10 appointment with that same agent.”

And voila! Just like that, I had my spot.

“Get over the idea that other writers are your competition. All writers are your tribe.” —Laurie Gwen Shapiro

I should probably also mention that this particular agent was the same agent presenting at the Master Class that had originally been full, but in which a slot had seemingly magically opened up for me at the last minute. That was the same class during which I sat beside a man who happened to have the 2:00 appointment with the same agent with whom I had a 2:10 appointment the following day. When I sat down in the seat he had just vacated, I noticed he’d dropped something important. I picked it up, and what are the chances I would run into him in his car in the parking garage, pulling out of his spot at the exact instant I pulled past? I was able to get his attention and return his lost belonging.

To top it all off, driving home, I hit all but the last two lights on Broad Street, green. That. Never. Happens. In fact, it was the green-light experience on Broad Street that got me reflecting on all the other pleasant coincidences I’d experienced since the conference’s beginning the day before.

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That night, I experienced another coincidence, though this one belonged to someone else. My husband and I attended a good friend’s (also a writer) wedding, where we met the best man, whose name was Ryan. His girlfriend’s name? Also Ryan. What are the chances of that?

And that brings us to today.

Just as the dryer had finished its cycle right before I left for the day Friday, the eggs I was boiling on the stove top for my dogs (their staple treat isn’t Milkbones, but chunked up hardboiled eggs we call “egg bites”) this morning finished boiling at the exact instant that

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Jack and Sadie at  Pony Pasture Rapids in September, when the James River was cresting after Hurricane Florence.

I was pulling their leashes from the laundry room so we could take our morning walk. By now, of course, I was used to the universe playing directly into my plans, so I smiled to myself and carried on with my morning.

A few hours later, I found myself back at the conference, with hundreds of other writers. Now, what is the likelihood (and don’t actually tell me, because the math would ruin the magic) that, in a popular plenary session, I would sit down and look up to see that three seats away from me sat a former student of mine? Or that the only other woman who got lost trying to find the restroom in an empty hallway of the Greater Richmond Convention Center would be the wife of a woodworker my husband is dying to take a workshop with, who we’d met at Makers Fest last weekend? Small world, huh?

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The James River Writers Annual Conference is held at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.

To top it all off, on my way home from the conference today, I turned on NPR. The Hidden Brain episode I heard promoted a few days ago, made a mental note to listen to, and then forgot the mental note, was airing. The topic? Coincidences.

(Don’t read too much into it.)

All that said, here are some pearls of wisdom from one of my favorite panels, Replenishing Your Creativity Toolkit.

On Writer’s Block

“Start writing bad things right away until you hit on something good. Write the bad idea and see what happens.” —Lina Maria Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas

“If it [writing] was easy, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it good.” —Moe Ferrara

“You don’t get inspiration, really. Your inspiration comes from your dedication. If there is a muse, it’s you.” —Pavana Reddy

“You write. You read. You let others read what you write. That’s what you can control. Keep swinging the bat. You have control over how many times you swing. Even if your batting average is low, if you keep swinging, you’re gonna hit something.” –Lina Maria Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas

On Creative Space and Process

“You have to be nice to yourself because no one else is going to be. You can’t sit down and tell your brain, ‘Write now or else!'” –Lina Maria Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas

“If you’re really excited about your ending, write it. It’s probably your beginning.” –Lina Maria Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas

“Write every day. There is no inspiration. You are the muse.” –Pavana Reddy

And one more pearl of wisdom from another favorite panel, Think Like a Word Entrepreneur:

On Writing Community

“Get over the idea that other writers are your competition. All writers are your tribe.”—Laurie Gwen Shapiro

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Daisy Buchannan and the Summer Solstice

Lest you miss it like Fitzgerald’s Daisy Buchannan in his novel The Great Gatsby admits to doing each year, I feel compelled to make you aware that today is the first day of summer, also known as the Summer Solstice. It’s the longest day of the year, in terms of daylight hours. In the opening chapters of The Great Gatsby, when Nick is first reunited with Daisy and Tom, Daisy asks, “Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it.” When her friend, Jordan Baker, responds with, “We ought to plan something,” Daisy asks, “What’ll we plan? What do people plan?” When I first read The Great Gatsby in my junior English class when I was 16 or 17 years old, I was fascinated by the character of Daisy Buchannan. She was beautiful and desirable and the seemingly random things she said, like the above, captivated me as they did Gatsby and Nick and apparently many other men who met her. But mostly, I think I found her so admirable because I wanted someone to love me the way Gatsby loved her. It must be so delicious to be so admired. My 32-year-old self has a somewhat different opinion on Ms. Daisy Buchannan, but that is neither here nor there.  What matters here is the fact that despite my changed view of her character, Daisy’s words have stuck with me these fifteen or sixteen years since my first reading of them, and I have felt an obligation–however unmet (up until now)–to recognize and celebrate the longest day of the year ever since, or at the very least, not to miss it.

This year, I finally succeeded. And I took it to a-whole-nother level. I didn’t make epic plans for just the longest day of the year; I made epic plans for the entire weekend leading up to it, as well.

So, Ms. Daisy Buchannan, since before Nick could answer you, you became suddenly distracted by your bruised pinky finger, here is what people plan–and thank you for the inspiration.

Saturday’s Summer Solstice Agenda

1. South of the James Farmers Market

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We kicked off our weekend before the longest day of the year strolling through the South of the James Farmers Market and eating lunch out of food trucks there (Goatacado and Intergalactic Taco). We were able to purchase all sorts of locally sourced products, from a hand-carved wooden door stop to handcrafted soap; from a chocolate mini bell pepper plant for our vegetable garden to homemade, human-grade dog treats for the pups; from bumper stickers to T-shirts, just to name a few. Picture above, I enjoy lunch at a picnic table at the edge of the farmers market with my husband (behind me) and my best friend (far left), who made the trip down from Pennsylvania specifically for the summer solstice celebration we had planned.
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While the South of the James Farmers Market is very pet-friendly (we saw dogs, cats, and goats there!), our own pups stayed home (bringing them along would have meant making them wait in the car during our next adventure, which would have been unwise at best and murderous at worst). We didn’t forget them, though! When we got home, I treated them to homemade, human-grade dog treats we purchased from one of the vendors at the market.

2. Segway Tour of Downtown Richmond

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From the farmers market, we drove straight to Segway of Richmond for an hour-long tour of the city. We visited the Canal Walk, Brown’s Island, and the Governor’s Mansion, just to name a few of the stops. Above, we engage in some silliness on the Segways at the bottom of the steps of the Virginia State Capitol.

3. Summer Solstice Potluck Celebration

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Over thirty friends and family members turned out with dishes to share to celebrate the Summer Solstice with us on Saturday night. Above, amid lanterns and moonlight, some of them gather around the bonfire.
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A good friend and I pose under the twinkly lights and beside one of the glowing lanterns in celebration of the approaching longest day of the year. Our Summer Solstice Potluck Celebration has likely become an annual tradition, which will ensure I never “watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it” (though I will be watching for it!).

Sunday Summer Solstice Agenda

1. A trip to Belle Isle on the James River

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My husband and I spent about an hour sitting on the rocks of Belle Isle with my best friend, who took this photograph, watching the whitewater rafting tours go by, admiring the many herons fishing for brunch, and wading in the warm, rushing waters of the James.

2. Father’s Day Food Truck Lunch

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This particular Sunday was not only the Sunday before the Summer Solstice, but also Father’s Day, so after our time at the river, we headed to Stone Brewery to meet my parents for lunch from Monique’s Crepes. Later that night, we celebrated my dad again when we brought Chinese food over to my parents’ house for dinner.

Monday Summer Solstice Agenda

1. Soak up the Sun at Pony Pasture

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After a walk with my dogs, a run through my neighborhood, and a few household chores, I set aside a few of the daylight hours on this the longest day of the year to write, read, sleep, and just generally relax at Pony Pasture on the James River.

So, I say to Daisy and the rest of you: 1) Perhaps you can now understand why, despite the ever-lengthening days, I haven’t had time to squeeze in a blog post over the last week, and 2) We have almost two hours of daylight left (at least in my neck of the woods) in the longest day of the year. Carpe Diem!