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A Writer’s State of Mind

Rebecca Lee, UNCW professor and short story writer, heads the Fiction Master Class at the NC Writer’s Conference.

Rebecca Lee, UNCW professor and short story writer, heads the Fiction Master Class at the NC Writer’s Conference.

“You know Wilmington is starting to get a reputation for writers,” a tall, debonair man informed me a few months ago. “I mean people talk about this place and the writers who live here.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah! John Jeremiah Sullivan lives here, Clyde Edgerton, that Celia Rivenbark … a bunch of writers.”

“Do you live here?” I asked.

“No, I’m from Detroit, actually.”

“So what brought you here?”

“I’m here to see John Jerimiah Sullivan.”

The answer was emphatic. Sullivan gave a reading locally, and this young man had traveled just to see him speak.

Anecdotally, at least, Wilmington seems to be exponentially growing its literary scene. Adding to it, this coming weekend, the North Carolina Writer’s Network Fall Conference will be held once again at the Wrightsville Beach Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort.

Founded in 1985, the North Carolina Writers Network (NCNW) connects, promotes and educates writers at all stages of development across the state of North Carolina. It is a broad and difficult mission, but someone has to do it. Actually, the NCWN is one of the larger and more successful writers’ advocacy groups currently operating. They hold a spring conference, a summer workshop and a fall conference every year.

“The first one was in 1985, at Wrightsville Beach,” executive director Ed Southern notes. “The conferences are the best way of achieving the central purpose of The NC Writer’s Network: to bring writers together and create a community of and for writers in this state.”

The 2013 conference is bursting at the seams with workshops, panels and opportunities to network with other writers, editors and agents. In addition, master classes feature heavily in the schedule.

“A master class is for more experienced writers who have narrowed down their focus and often times are trying to finish one particularly large project: a novel, memoir—or collection of poems,” Southern explains.

The quality of the leaders in the master classes can’t be beat either. “Two years ago the instructor who had led the previous year’s masters class in poetry signed up to take the next year’s master class in poetry,” he adds.

It says a lot when the people who have taught want to become pupils.

Among this year’s offerings are opportunities to work with Phillip Gerard, Peter Makuck and Rebecca Lee.  Lee will be directing the fiction master class. She sees it as a time and place for writers to get feedback on when and how their work is making it across “that tricky, ephemeral bridge between writer and reader.”

Besides asking students to bring “pen, paper, heart, mind, curiosity about the work of others and ways it might relate to one’s own,” Lee has been meditating on what exactly this particular experience could or should be.

“I was just thinking this morning, while trying to work on a thorny story of my own, that it just always feels like the beginning, like you don’t know what you’re doing, like the whole enterprise is just about to go under at every moment,” she explains. “So, to the extent that every writer feels like a beginner all the time, then the class is appropriate for beginners. But, also, it’s for more experienced writers in the sense that we are going to talk about the work in some critical ways, and really think about ways it could be more effective.”

Lee will be teaching the class off the heels of her book tour to promote a highly successful new collection of short stories, “Bobcat”—the follow-up to her novel “The City is a Rising Tide.”

Of course, writers are always curious to learn more about how to break into the fortress of publishing. On that front, two key holders are agents and editors. Michelle Brower of Folio Literary Management, Paul Lucas of Janklow and Nesbit Associates, Christine Norris of Press 53 and Emily Louise Smith of Lookout Books will be representing the publishing side of the literary world. They will sit on the breakfast panel at 8 a.m. on Sunday, November 17th. Additional opportunities to talk with them will be offered in individual sessions at “Manuscript Mart.”

“I don’t’ want people to think it’s about getting an agent and a publishing deal,” Southern forewarns. “The more important benefit you get from the Manuscript Mart is the chance to learn what agents and publishers are really looking for.”

“I’ve been thinking a lot about my first writer’s conference, when I was 22.” Lee muses. “It was in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and I remember I knitted through every session, just enthralled by it all. I couldn’t think of anything I liked better than sitting in a room and talking about writing. Now that I do it as a profession, I’m a little less dreamy about it, but not too much…”

Southern’s first writers conference came in 1995 at the NC Writer’s Network Conference in Charlotte. “It was the slap in the face that I needed as a very young writer, full of arrogance,” he remembers. “Just seeing the quality of the work that was out there—how much work I would need to do to rise to that level.”

Some additional workshops not to miss at this year’s event include:
“Getting Started: The Short Personal Essay” with Virginia Holman

“Legal Issues for Writers” with Mitch Tuchman

“How Not to Win the ‘Bad Sex Award’” with Emily Colin

“From Book to Buzz” with Bridgette Lacy

“Creating Compelling Characters” (playwriting) with Susan Steadman

“Writing a Life—Including Your Own” with Jim Dodson

“What’s In Your Attic? Recovering Your Old Poems” with Mark Cox

“Cooperative Book Promotion” with Sheila Boneham

For full details, visit

North Carolina Writers Network Fall Conference 2013

November 15th – 17th
Holiday Inn Resort
1706 North Lumina Ave.
Wrightsville Beach
Full access: $400
Individual class prices: $30-$150

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