Monday, July 06, 2009

Writer's League of Texas, Rick Klaw, Monkeybrain Books, Texas Writers, and Austin

A week or so ago I attended the Writer's League of Texas Agents Conference in Austin. I have been a member of the League for many years but I live in Dallas, so I very rarely show up at their meetings. I am not sure why I am a member; I guess I just like to say I am a Texas writer.

I grew up in Texas and being a Texas writer meant something special to me. I suppose it still does, but many Texas writers these days are more than regional writers. They live in Texas but they are widely known. For instance, Elmer Kelton, Chris Roberson and Joe Lansdale are Texas writers but they are read widely and the label--regional writer--does not apply. Michael Moorcock, one of my favorite writers, lives in Texas but no one in his right mind would label him a Texas writer, even though he did write "Tales from the Texas Woods." The only thing that might connect it to Texas is a mythic tale involving The Masked Buckaroo, who tracks an albino Apache known as El Lobo Blanco. Does that sound familiar? Interestedly enough, Chris Roberson in his forthcoming novel "The Book of Secrets" also has a similar western tale, which seems to connect to the regional root system of all Texans.

Nevertheless, I drove down to Austin on a Thursday afternoon to attend the latest conference. This was my third time to attend the Writers Conference and like the times before I was armed with a new book.

The first time I went to Austin to attend an agent conference, I was flogging "Vogel and the White Bull." The time after that I pushed my novel "Cave Gossip." This time I was trying to sell my first fantasy novel--"Okeanus." However, this time, things were different. In the past, I traveled to Austin full of hope and anxiety. I believed that fate would intervene and I would find the right agent for my books. This time I was different: I truly didn't care if I found an agent or not. You see I am approaching sixty and I have learned a thing or two. Some people say I have given up; others say I am cynical. However, now I see the whole thing as a process. I came to this conclusion about a year ago and as a result I returned to my roots as a writer. Not my Texas roots but my core values roots, as it were.

In the seventies I taught composition and rhetoric at a couple of universities. I spent three years at Stephen F. Austin State University and another three at Missouri State University (in those days it was known as Southwest Missouri State University). During that time I wrote poetry, short stories, and articles, and had some success. I wrote because I had to and wanted to. For some reason in the nineties I began to try to hit the long ball. As a result, I wrote a series of novels, with little or no success. I think what has changed for me over the last year or so is that I have stopped trying to hit a home run. I am working now on my technique; I am writing short stories and poems and trying to establish my voice. As I said to my friend Iain McDonald, a young adult writer from the Woodlands, I don't intend writing a query lesson for a long time to come.

So you ask, why was I driving down to Austin with a 150 word pitch in my briefcase? The answer is that I did pretty well in the Amazon/Penguin Breakthrough Novel contest in the spring; well enough, that is, to have gotten a really nasty review from Publisher's Weekly. I mean, I had never gotten a professional type review before, except for my poetry. Here was something I could pitch. At the very least I might make it to first base. So off I go to Austin with my pitch but with my new Zen-like attitude. To prove I am relaxed and a new man, I stay at a hotel well away from the conference; I eat Mexican food on Congress and drink margaritas; I drive over to Book People and browse for several hours, and then cross over to Waterloos. I am living the Austin writer's life.

On Saturday, when the main events start, I am still relaxed. I meet Iain McDonald in one of the topic rooms and have a good discussion about YA writing and I watch Michael Murphy of Max & Co work the conference. I conclude that this guy has to be the hardest working man in the business. I chat with Julie Schroecke about presentation techniques and I have lunch with Fort Worth fantasy writer, Robert Leonard, and we talk about Tolkien-type fantasy verses my favorite type of writing-- American pulp of the forties and fifties.

I am fortunate to meet Jonathan Lyons and Scott Hoffman, two agents I really admire. I follow their blogs and writings on publishing and I was impressed they were there in Austin at the Sheraton on a hot June day.

Nevertheless as the conference wanes, I am still maintaining my calm, old man attitude, and then it happens: I attend "Beyond the Strip: Inside the World of Comics & Graphic Novels" presentation. Suddenly I am a kid again, filled with the ardor and passion I always have had for writing.

I attended this presentation because of Rick Klaw. I am a fan of his work and it is through him I discovered Joe Lansdale, writer in residence in Nacogdoches. So during the ninety minute session with Rick Klaw, Tony Salvaggio, and Alan Porter, I was transported back to the east Texas pea-patch where I read comics under a cottonwood tree on hot summer days in the fifties. When I left I was vibrating with energy and anxious to get home and start writing. I was also armed with some suggested reading, which I quickly picked up, as I headed back to Dallas.

Rick Klaw's book, "Geek Confidential: Echoes from the 21st Century" is published by Chris Roberson's press--Monkeybrain Books. In that book Rick said something, which I am going to have to paraphrase because I can't remember where he said it, but it goes something like this--"Joe Lansdale and Michael Moorcock are mine." I understand this sentiment because certain writers are mine, too, and the Writers League of Texas Agents Conference reminded me of that fact. Stan Lee, Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock, Chris Roberson are mine, just as writing in Texas is mine.

All in all I would say it was a profitable time in Austin and no I didn't sell "Okeanus" and I don't really care. I am writing and that is what matters.