Writers Talk Shop, Novel, and Pitch Conference
Commentary by conference attendees
A Conversation Between Writer Doug Grudzina and Michael Neff
Douglas Grudzina earned a B.A. in English Literature from SUNY Stony Brook and an MA, also in English Literature, from Washington College. After twenty-five-plus years teaching high school English and consulting with the Delaware Department of Education, he "retired" to write and edit for Prestwick House, Inc., where his books and ELA instructional materials have received critical acclaim and won a number of national awards. His short stories and articles have appeared in several professional publications, and he reviews articles for the National Council of Teachers of English's English Journal.
I found the Pitch and Shop to be the best I have attended. The limited number of participants, the reasonable size of the individual groups, the positive, nurturing atmosphere, and the high amount of individual attention each of us received put this conference in a different class from those where you are one of 1,000 wannabees milling around, vying for a couple minutes with an overworked agent.
- Doug Grudzina
MN: What was the inspiration behind your novel, The Warrior of Galilee?
DG: In December 2003, I was listening to my daughter's Christmas concert. They were singing a "Magnificat" (Mary's response to the angel telling her she's going to have God's baby.) And I started thinking about the personal and human lives that traditional religious and biblical views don't let us see. First I thought of a book about Mary—not focusing on the theological "Mother-of-God" stuff, but on the little girl, the housewife, the mother, etc. Early in my research, however, Jesus/Yeshua emerged as a much more interesting character—again focusing on the human, the family, the politics.
MN: Can we hear more about it?
DG: Well, it's an adventure story—the story of a boy born in a politically volatile time to a family of extremists. It's a love story between a young girl and the husband that is chosen for her, and how the husband struggles to forgive his wife for the child she bears that is not his. It's the coming-of-age story of a boy who does not really fit into his family of half- and step-siblings, and is both enthralled and terrified by what he begins to suspect might be his destiny. And it's a hero journey—a boy's growth from illegitimate baby to someone who believes himself to be the salvation of his people.
MN: What made you choose to attend the New York Pitch Conference?
DG: Back in—I think—2005, I was Googling writers conferences in New York, and the Pitch and Shop caught my eye. I knew my novel was nowhere near ready for the pitch stage, but I kept checking the site for news about subsequent conferences ... The Warrior of Galilee is actually my fifth completed manuscript, and I'm always on the lookout for something that will get me out of the slush pile and actually into someone's hands. I also knew that my query letters were missing their mark, so the idea of getting one-on-one help with the pitch and then actual face-time with the editors was very attractive.
I was not disappointed.
MN: Has The Warrior of Galilee changed since the conference?
DG: You know that joke about the sculptor who, when asked how he made a sculpture of an elephant, said he took a piece of stone and chipped away everything that didn't look like an elephant? Well, the pitch conference really helped me see the "elephant" I wanted the book to be, and that made it easier—in my most recent edit—to cut out all the stuff that didn't look like an elephant ... When you have fewer than 200 words to encapsulate a 300-page novel, and you know that someone is going to base her decision whether or not to read the thing on those 200 words, you really do search for the essence, the core of the story.
MN: What did you find most beneficial about the sessions in New York?
DG: I work in publishing, so I often see good things sent back to their writers because we know we cannot sell them to our customers. So, to have an editor say to your face—rather than through a form rejection letter—that the concept sounds fine, but the market will not support it, is—while disappointing—also very helpful. It's not personal, it's business.
I also found it incredibly helpful just to see and hear another person's reaction to the story. You work on something so closely and in such relative isolation, that you really do not know what kind of impact it will have on someone for whom it's new.
Plus the fact that you've finally got someone's attention is incredible.
MN: What did you find most effective about this overall approach to working the novel?
DG: I liked the requirement to model our pitches after the two samples sent to us. The Warrior of Galilee is not a suspense, action, crime drama, so it was at first tempting to downplay the models. But, the bottom line remains that, if you can't talk about your novel in terms of its plot, and if that plot does not have some basic elements (conflict, complications, rising action, climax, etc.), then it's probably a pretty dull read. So I found that following the models and forcing myself to identify those elements in my story—or diagnose their lack—was a very helpful exercise ... I also have to say that I really felt the conference leaders cared about us and about our (eventual) success. Both group and individual attention made the conference far better than others that I've attended.
Finally, the spirit of camaraderie—rather than competition—that developed among the participants, and was fostered by the conference planners, kept the atmosphere conducive to thought and work and exchange of ideas.
MN: How would you compare New York Pitch Conference to other writer conferences?
DG: I found the Pitch and Shop to be the best I have attended. The limited number of participants, the reasonable size of the individual groups, the positive, nurturing atmosphere, and the high amount of individual attention each of us received put this conference in a different class from those where you are one of 1,000 wannabees milling around, vying for a couple minutes with an overworked agent or editor.
I felt taken seriously as a writer at the Pitch and Shop.
MN: Where does the novel go from here?
DG: Well, of course it's destined to be an enormous bestseller ... Then, of course, I've got those other four novels to revise and even more to create from scratch.
About the interviewer:
Michael Neff is the creator and director of WebdelSol.Com and the Algonkian Writer Conferences.
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