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At the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference, writers can sign up for "All Shapes and Sizes: A Workshop on Novel Structure" with Chantel Acevedo. Whether you outline, or let the muse take you where she will, every novel must have a thoughtful structure to it. We’ll be discussing the fundamentals of how to structure your novel in this workshop. We’ll talk about scene building, the “tent poles” that hold your novel up, pacing, character motivation and more.

Chantel Acevedo has received many awards for her fiction, including the Latino International Book Award and an Alabama State Council on the Arts Literature Fellowship. A Cuban-American born and raised in Miami, Florida, Acevedo has spent time in Japan and New Zealand as a Fulbrighter, and currently resides in Auburn, Alabama, where she teaches at Auburn University. She is the editor of the Southern Humanities Review, the founder of the annual Auburn Writers Conference, and the author of two additional novels, Love and Ghost Letters (St. Martin’s Press) and A Falling Star (Carolina Wren Press), as well as a novel for young adults, Song of the Red Cloak. A new novel, The Distant Marvels, is forthcoming from Europa Editions.

Register for Fall Conference now!

 

What are you reading right now?
Carlos Zafón's The Prisoner of Heaven.

Where is your favorite place to write?
The little white writing desk in my bedroom.

If you weren't a writer, what kind of job would you like to have?
I'm also a professor and editor, but if I weren't any of those, I'd work in a bridal store. I just love all those beautiful dresses and excited people on the threshold of this big event.

Who has influenced your writing style the most?
Lately, Zafón has been an influence. But certainly, Cristina Garcia and Julia Alvarez have been major influences.

If you could switch places with one fictional character, who would it be?
Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables. I've always wanted red hair!

What do you hope attendees takeaway from Fall Conference, especially if they sign up for your workshop, panel, or Mart?
My workshop is about structuring the novel, so I hope they come away with a renewed sense of the project they're working on, and a possible way "through" it.

Charlotte is known as both "The Queen City" and "The Hornet's Nest." Does one of those nicknames ring more true for you than the other?
I've been only once, briefly, but I just loved the little crowns on the signage. Parts of town reminded me of London, strangely, so definitely it's "The Queen City" for me.

Sunday's "Brilliant at Breakfast" panel discussion is titled, "The Many Paths to Publication." What's the first thing you ever published?
A sci-fi story that was published in a magazine for high school writers. The magazine was called Beginnings, but I can't recall the title of the story!

Give us three adjectives you hope critics use to describe your next book.
Moving, Page-turning, Educational.

What is the most frustrating or rewarding part of the writing process?
It depends on the day. Some days, the drafting is a pleasure, others, it's torture. Same goes for revision, trying to get published, marketing, etc.

What’s one piece of advice no one gave you when you were starting out, that you wish they had?
You don't have to stick to one genre. Sometimes, a story is actually a poem. Go with it.

If you could mandate that everyone in the world read one book, which one would you choose?
Toni Morrison's Beloved.

Describe your ideal literary festival. Who would give the keynote address? Who would be the featured readers? What else?
It would be quirky. I'd have John Green interviewing Marilynne Robinson, and those kinds of mix-ups. Toni Morrison would be the keynote. And maybe we'd have a seance and summon Shakespeare, and lay to rest all the rumors about his authorship.

Do you steal hotel pens?
Every chance I get.

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The North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference runs November 21-23 in Charlotte. Registration is now open.

 

At the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference, Carin Siegfried and Betsy Thorpe will lead a workshop on "The Art of the Pitch." After years of perfecting your manuscript, now it’s time to think about how you’re going to pitch your work—to agents, editors, publishers, and readers. Learn the secrets of a perfect query letter, and how to engage your reader. Carin Siegfried and Betsy Thorpe spent years as acquiring editors in New York for St. Martin’s and Random House, respectively, reading pitches from agents and authors, and can tell you what made them drop everything to read a manuscript sparked by an amazing pitch.

Carin Siegfried has been in the book business for twenty years, since starting work in the Davidson College library. She was an editor for Thomas Dunne Books at St. Martin’s Press in New York for five years, acquiring twenty-five books, including a New York Times bestseller, a Kelly Ripa Book Club selection, and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. In addition, she worked on more than 100 books on behalf of Tom Dunne, including numerous bestsellers and award winners. More recently she was the New England independent bookstore sales rep, and then a national account manager, for book wholesaler Baker & Taylor. In 2009 she founded the Charlotte chapter of the Women’s National Book Association and she is currently President of the national WNBA. She runs her own editorial service, Carin Siegfried Editorial, where she enjoys helping writers make their books the very best. She is the author of The Insider's Guide to a Career in Book Publishing (6/2014, Chickadee Books), a book explaining the ins and outs of the publishing industry for young adults wanting to break into the field.

Betsy Thorpe has been in the book business for twenty years, working in the adult trade departments as a developmental and acquisitions editor at Atheneum, HarperCollins, Broadway Doubleday, Macmillan, and John Wiley & Sons. Since leaving New York, she founded Betsy Thorpe Literary Services, an independent book consultancy, where she works with authors on their book projects, helps with pitches and finding agents, and pulls together independent editorial teams and designers for self-publishing. She has co-written four books, three of which have been featured in The New York Times.

Register now!

 

What’s one piece of advice no one gave you when you were starting out, that you wish they had?
Carin Siegfried: Marketing is really, really hard. I knew that beforehand, but I had no idea until I tried doing it and it’s a nightmare. So many moving parts, so many options, so many costs, no way to know what will stick. We know 50 percent of marketing works… just not which 50 percent. This is true for my business, and even more so for my book.
Betsy Thorpe: When I was an acquiring editor I was rejecting many books that were very good, but not quite “there.” As an aspiring novelist, this got me down, and put me off writing my own novel for sixteen years.

Did you have a teacher or mentor who had a big, positive impact on you?
CS: I had several great English professors in college who all taught the pop culture has value. They did not value so-called “literature” over just plain, regular fiction. They acknowledged that we don’t know which contemporary books will one day be classics, and also that one can find value in pop culture in a literary way, a la Don Delillo’s White Noise. I loved their non-snobbery and appreciation of all types of genres and styles.
BT: I had many mentors and amazing professors, but I have to go all the way back to high school, where two English teachers, Mrs. Lang and Mr. Krill, inspired me to (respectively) be a writer, and to love the middle ages.

Who is your literary hero?
CS: David Sedaris. He’s a little guy with a squeaky voice writing about everyday life, from getting a colonoscopy to picking up trash on the side of the road, and he not only makes it hilarious and riveting, but he’s made an entire career out of it. And yet, he still does events at independent bookstores, and for every tour he picks a book that he personally likes and he touts it everywhere he goes, spreading the wealth. If you’ve ever seen him in person, you’ll know he could not be less pretentious or celebrity-esque. He has never left an event before every book has been signed, and he talks to everyone.
BT: Oh man, impossible to have just one! I’d have to say Jane Austen for bucking the conventions of the time when women were meant to be ornaments, and not keen and observant writers. I love literary pioneers.

If you could live in any literary world for the rest of your life, where would you find yourself?
CS: I’m fine where I am. No magical realms, nor even historical. Both are too scary. I couldn’t deal with the sexism and lack of TV. So I’ll go with the '90s in NYC restaurants and live in Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl.
BT: Narnia (C.S. Lewis), followed by Avonlea on Prince Edward Island (L.M. Montgomery), followed by King Arthur’s Court (Geoffrey of Monmouth).

If you could have written one book that someone else wrote, which book would it be?
CS: Pride and Prejudice. It’s only the best book ever, so why would anyone pick anything else?
BT: Bel Canto—pure genius. I stand in awe at Ann Patchett’s skills there.

Many writers are solitary creatures. Coming to an event like Fall Conference can be a little intimidating, navigating the exhibit hall and ballroom events. Any advice for working the room?
CS: I recently heard that the best thing to do is not to approach a single, but to approach a twosome. That way you’re not stuck and you have a decent chance of being able to peel off and continue to mingle.
BT: I’m really awkward at working a room as well. I once spoke to a group in South Carolina, and after I finished, a woman introduced herself. She said she was a realtor by day, but was so happy to be surrounded by fellow writers at this conference because until then, she’d felt very alone in her pursuit of writing. It’s hard in your everyday world for people to know what writing is like, and how it can be both amazing and heartbreaking. So enjoy the fellowship of your fellow writers. Just introduce yourself and tell the other person what you’re working on and what you’re hoping to get out of the conference and make sure you “friend” them on Facebook or get e-mail addresses to keep in touch! Get a support group or a writers’ group together.

Who gave the best reading or talk you've ever been to? What made it so good?
CS: David Sedaris is always the best reading I’ve been to. I’ve seen him four times in three cities. He’s hilarious and I love that despite how popular he is, he doesn’t exclusively do expensive paid events. He still does free shows at indies all the time. He gives away random free things at his signings like hotel toiletries and coat hangers and condoms. And I love hearing him try out new material, and then see the final version later in his next book.
BT: I loved the talk that Debbie Macomber gave at Bookmarks last year. She told the story of how she dreamed she could have a career as a writer, but kept getting rejected, time and time again. It took her five years of multiple submissions of multiple manuscripts before she got her first contract. Her story showed that butt in chair plus talent plus a dogged determination got her to be a bestselling author.

Any advice for attendees who sign up for the Open Mic?
CS: Remember to breathe.
BT: Humor always wins people over. And brevity.

The city of Charlotte was founded on two established Native American trading routes. Now, of course, it's the 2nd biggest banking center in the country. Fall Conference will boast an exhibit hall packed with vendors. How do you approach an exhibit hall at a conference such as this? To shop, to chat, or both?
CS: Both. I’ve been on both sides of the booth, and I actually think it’s a little easier to be in the booth, waiting for people to approach you. As a participant, sometimes the vendors seem desperate and I’m scared if I approach them I’ll never get away. So I am hesitant and I prefer a booth where the vendors don’t jump on every person the second they walk up. Relax. If the material’s good and right for the person, they’ll stay a minute.

They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but of course most of us do. What is one—or some—of your favorite book cover(s)?
CS: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand was beautiful. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was not just awesome but it also glow in the dark! Blindness by Jose Saramago was simple and yet perfect.
BT: Recently, I’ve loved the cover for Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple. And Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson kills me every time I see it.

What do you hope attendees takeaway from the conference, especially if they sign up for your workshop?
CS: Everyone will take away something different. Some people need more confidence, some people need to know how hard it is so they won’t take a few rejections so to heart, and some people need to know when to give up and start something new. As long as you learn something—it doesn’t matter what—you’ve had a successful day.
BT: Pitching a book is so important and should be given a lot of attention to perfect. It’s not true that “unless you know somebody” you have no shot at getting published. A great pitch letter will get you a read by a powerful and knowledgable agent. Make sure it’s got all the elements that need to go into a great pitch letter.

What is your guilty pleasure read?
CS: Valley of the Dolls was fantastic. Everyone should read it. You’ll love it.
BT: So many types of books fit in this category for me. But I’m always a sucker for historical fiction with a dash of romance, suspense, and mystery.

What makes you cringe when you see it on the page?
CS: “Entitled” instead of “titled.” But this is a battle I’m losing. The improper definition is even in most dictionaries now. (Entitled is a legal term meaning you are owed or due something. If you’re talking about the title of a book or TV show, it’s simply “titled.”)
BT: So much! An editor is supposed to be on the lookout for multiple sins on the page, and being an English major you learn to critique and analyze the greats. But my number one pet peeve at the moment is bad dialogue and dialogue tags.

Caffeine of choice? (English Breakfast, Caramel macchiato, etc.)
CS: Dr. Pepper.
BT: PG tips tea. Thanks to living in England for a couple of years, that’s your basic everyday tea, but I love a good Darjeeling or Lady Grey when splashing out on a slightly better tea. With milk, hold the sugar.

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Registration for the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference is now open.

 

Marybeth Whalen and her husband Curt have been married for twenty-three years and are the parents of six children, ranging in age from college to elementary school. The family lives in North Carolina. Marybeth is a speaker and the author of five novels. The newest, The Bridge Tender, was released in June. She is the co-founder of the popular women's fiction site, She Reads, at www.shereads.org, and is the Writer-in-Residence at a local private school. Marybeth spends most of her time in the grocery store but occasionally escapes long enough to scribble some words. She is always at work on her next novel. You can find her at www.marybethwhalen.com.

At the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference, Marybeth will participate in the panel "Structure: Four Ways to Build a Book" with Kim Boykin, Erika Marks, and Kim Wright. Structure: It's hard to talk about and therefore many writers avoid the scary subject, even though a sound structure is essential to the success of any novel. On this panel, four writers will share their own unique ways of building a book, from being a “pantser” (who flies by the seat of her pants) to a “plotter” who won't begin without a detailed outline, to all the possibilities between these two extremes. We'll also discuss the issues of whether each book demands its own structure, the challenge of revision, writing when you aren't sure what happens next, and whether or not the "film formula" really works when it comes to novels. You'll leave with a new set of tools to help you find the best structural approach to your next book.

Register now!

 

If you could be a different author, living or dead, who would you be?
Elizabeth Berg is my absolute hero so I'd have to say her. Her ability to observe the nuances of life, and to capture a woman's unique thoughts and emotions, is enviable to me so of course I'd like to be her—and therefore write like her.

Give us three adjectives you hope critics use to describe your next book.
Charming, hopeful, engaging.

What’s one piece of advice no one gave you when you were starting out, that you wish they had?
It will be rewarding—but not in any way you expect it to be.

In 2013, Forbes named Charlotte among its list of Best Places for Business and Careers. What makes Charlotte such a vibrant place to visit and live?
Charlotte is a mix of NASCAR and banking, old south and northern transplants, funky and austere, city and country. Which means that there's pretty much something for everyone, if you keep looking. At its heart, Charlotte is a small town who grew up fast, and experienced growing pains along the way. Who among us doesn't know what that feels like?

Why do you feel it's important for writers to attend conferences such as the NCWN Fall Conference?
The best writers are the ones who always keep learning and never feel they've arrived. They remain teachable and that open-heartedness is reflected in their writing.

Saturday's "Brilliant at Breakfast" panel discussion is titled, "Words in Civic Life." Does creative writing have a role to play outside the covers of a book?
Creativity breeds creativity. It inspires, it multiplies, it gets into the air and fills us all.

What do you hope attendees takeaway from the conference, especially if they sign up for your workshop, panel, or Mart?
The sense that there is no one right way. And that if they have a passion to write the key is to just keep at it.

What does it mean for writers to "Network?" Any tips?
Don't be afraid to strike up conversations, to take risks, to be the first to reach out.

If you could mandate that everyone in the world read one book, which one would you choose?
I'm gonna go with my southern, Sunday school upbringing and say the Bible, especially the Psalms—from the depths of despair to the heights of euphoria, there is nothing withheld, no question too big, no promise unkept. Sometimes I need to resonate with the despair, sometimes I need to cling to the hope. Either way, there's always something there.

Can writing be taught?
The drive to write can't—but the skill to make what you write resonate can.

Who has influenced your writing style the most?
My best friend, author Ariel Lawhon, mainly because she listens to me weep and gnash my teeth, then kicks me back into play. She also helps me brainstorm and gives me good insight when I can't see past my own nose.

Have you ever had writer’s block? What is one thing that helped you overcome it?
Reading some encouragement from another writer, talking to my best friend, reading back through my journal, and then sometimes just making myself open the damn file. Sometimes that one tiny act is the hardest move I make all day.

Someone writes an un-authorized biography about your life. What would the title be?
The same title of my "theme song"—I'm Still Standing.

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Registration for the North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference, November 21-23 in Charlotte, is now open.

 

 
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