~Nathan Bransford, Central Coast Writers Conference & Book Festival – part I

Wow. I can’t believe how time gets away from me. It’s already been over 2 weeks since I attended the Central Coast Writers Conference. I’m not going to rant about the passage of time – been there, done that, will probably do it again.

But not now. Now I’m going to give the report on the Conference that I promised.

It was my second year at the CCWC, and, like all conferences are for me, quite a roller-coaster ride.

This day-and-a-half conference is held in gorgeous San Luis Obispo, CA, which is a thriving university town and my old stomping grounds. Its community college, Cuesta College, provides just the right setting for the examination and promotion of the literary craft.

The keynote speaker this year was renowned blogger and uber-agent Nathan Bransford of the Curtis Brown Literary Agency. His positive message to the audience was upstaged only by his open and friendly manner. The Nathan I saw at the podium was the Nathan I’ve seen in his blog – helpful, caring, supportive – EXCEPT he was in 3-D!!

Couldn’t get any better.

The first session was Friday evening after the keynote. And that’s where my car on the rollercoaster dropped out from under me, leaving my stomach in my throat. When the industry professional read the opening from my unpublished novel, Watcher, she started out by complimenting me on my writing. But halfway through my piece, she derailed my elation when she commented that present tense doesn’t work, that no one likes to read it and no publisher will buy it, and that I should re-write my novel.

The audience protested on my behalf, shouting out, “What about The Hunger Games?” Her response was that she hadn’t heard of it, nor of any of the other recently-published titles that the audience continued to mutter.

All I could think about was the gargantuan task of re-writing a first-person present-tense novel (and its half-written sequel) in past-tense.

No way.

Yet the nausea continued to grip me as I thought about the last year-and-a-half of my life that I’ve dedicated to this story. A story that refused to be written in third person, or past-tense. A story with a character that insisted on telling it HER way, writer be damned.

And so I went home, deflated, angry that once again an industry professional had dashed my hopes against the hard rock of publishing reality.

The same thing happened at last year’s conference. Different professional, different reason. But I listened to her, and made her recommended changes, and improved my story.

But re-writing the whole thing?  That was going to take some deep thought.

(to be continued)

6 thoughts on “~Nathan Bransford, Central Coast Writers Conference & Book Festival – part I

  1. Interesting. Kind of surprising that the person hadn’t heard of the Hunger Games. I’ve never read the series but have at least heard out it. While present tense isn’t as popular, I don’t think it’s necessarily forbidden. I know some readers who won’t read present tense in general, but there are obviously plenty of readers that will.

    I initially wrote my ya novel in first person present, well it was past but at chapter 9 it wanted to be present so I edited the first chapters. Sure, I’m not changing it to third person but that’s cause i don’t really like first person. I think that depending on the story, sometimes it works. First person present has a different experience feeling for the reader, as they are cast in the role and the action is happening right away instead of sayint it already happened.

    Like any critique, think it over and then decide what is best for your novel.

  2. Hey Roh!

    I used to live in Santa Cruz so I’m embarrassed at not having ever heard of the convention until this year, when I find myself in the middle of the Pacific. Oh well. Maybe next year. It would have been awesome to see Nathan in the flesh!

    I can say from experience that rewriting is a great thing. I’ve spent a year and half also on my WIP, my first ever novel. I’m so glad I rewrote it. Its shorter, clearer, but of course still needs work.

    If the only reason you might need to rewrite is tense, well I say screw that! I love present tense. Lots of people love present tense. I think tense is something you only notice the first couple of pages, when you get used to a novel. Then you get into the flow of it, and don’t even notice it anymore.

    Everyone I hear complaining about present tense is really old. My (our?) gen is totally down with it though.


    1. Thanks, Dayana. It does seem to be a generational thing. I was reassured by a younger, more in-tune agent the following day and told not to worry – but more on that in Part II!

  3. I wouldn’t take writing advice from anybody who’s never heard of Suzanne Collins! And before I’d take any “professional’s” advice, I’d Google. Sometimes people get hired because of very old credentials. (That person’s company folded a long time ago and a couple of much-published writers, plus the editor of a prestigious literary magazine find her advice antiquated and uninformed.)

    My first published novel was written in the present tense. My editors had no problem with it and I got some very nice reviews. It’s almost as common as past tense in YA these days.

    1. Thanks, Anne. She certainly rattled me, but as you saw, the audience wasn’t necessarily buying her opinion. And after some thought on it, I didn’t either.

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