Celebrate Rockvile's Favorite Son at The F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference

Wednesday, October 29, 2008
By Jill Earl

Last Saturday, I hopped a train to Rockville, Maryland, a short distance from Washington, D.C. for the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference (FSF) at Montgomery College. Now in its 13th year, this annual day-long event gathers area writers and readers together to listen to and learn from industry professionals, meet the FSF contest winners and celebrate the 112th birthday of Rockville’s favorite son, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Attendees began their morning with writing workshops such as poetry, novel structure, the author/editor relationship, screen adaptation and short story to get the writing flow going. Following welcome remarks, attention was turned to ‘Crime and Mystery--A New and Yet Familiar Genre’. Washington Post writer and columnist Michael Dirda moderated the lively discussion as panelists George Pelicanos, Laura Lippman, and 2008 FSF Literary Award recipient Elmore Leonard shared their experiences in this popular genre.

Emmy nominated for HBO’s The Wire, Mr. Pelicanos defined himself as a crime novelist interested in the ‘why’ rather than the ‘whodunit’ and “showing people the way things are” in his novels set around Washington, D.C. Former journalist and author of the Tess Monaghan mystery series, Ms. Lippman remarked that she “aspired to noir writing”, but “I’m not dark enough.” An acclaimed novelist and screenwriter, Mr. Leonard frankly declared, “I don’t care for cute, comfortable mysteries”, evident in works ranging from westerns to modern writings such as Get Shorty and Freaky Deaky, a favorite of Mr. Pelicanos.

The best advice to writers was offered by Ms. Lippman, “You have to grow a really thick skin and learn to get over bad reviews. If they say your work is bad, so what? Move on!”

Added to this year’s conference was the opportunity to pre-register for 20-minute manuscript consultations with editors from journals such as Narrative, The Gettysburg Review and Blackbird. All meetings were on a first-come, first-served basis.

After lunch we moved on to keynote speaker Susan Cheever, who led us through ‘The Mystery of Great Writing from 1850 to the Present’. Interspersed with tales from her early days of writing, Ms. Cheever spoke of her lifelong love and fascination for Louisa May Alcott’s writings, noted that there's more of a writers’ community today than there used to be and how “the writer’s nap is a very important part of a writer’s life”, a belief near and dear to my heart. At the end, she reminded attendees, “The only way to learn how to write is to read.”

During the awards ceremony, winners of both the high school and adult short story contests accepted their prizes and read excerpts from their works. And Elmore Leonard, winner of the 13th Annual FSF Literary Award (recognizing outstanding achievement in American literature), joined a most distinguished group of past recipients, including John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Mailer and Edward Albee. Mr. Leonard continued to delight attendees with his wry humor as he read from one of his many novels. As an added surprise, his wife presented him with a candle-topped cupcake as attendees wished him a happy 83rd birthday.

The afternoon continued with a panel on wisdom from writers, editors and publicists; the Fitzgerald Haunts in Rockville Tour, including his and wife Zelda’s final resting place; and more writing workshops, among them memoir, short story, and personal essay.

I signed up for the personal essay workshop led by Kim Dana Kupperman, managing editor of The Gettysburg Review. Since we had limited time, we jumped into learning how to develop persona writing about first kisses from not only our own perspectives, but also from those of philosophers, thieves and martyrs. A fun way to end a rather relaxing day.

Reading, writing and learning from the best on a beautiful October day. What more could a writer want?


Joanne said...

I always enjoy when writers share details from Writers' Conferences. There's something even for us to glean secondhand from what you blog. Reading insight and advice from Susan Cheever and Laura Lippman is invaluable. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

My pleasure, Joanne

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