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Northeast Texas Writers Organization Conference makes convert of a first-timer

Story and photos by Patrick Hanford


I decided a month ago to attend the April 2015 conference of NETWO, the Northeast Texas Writers Organization. It was my first. I must start somewhere and this year was it. So I picked a place in Texas. I wasn't exactly sure where Mount Pleasant, Texas, was when I signed up but figured it was close to Dallas with Northeast in the name. When I landed in Dallas at 6:55 am, that meant I was up at 4:30 and on the plane by six, and I decided that this might not be what I was looking for.


We landed before the rain hit, but by the time I reached my rental car the rain poured buckets from the sky. This was not like in lovely Lubbock, where it rains hard for fifteen or twenty minutes. It rained from the time I turned the corner at the rental to two and a half hours later of white-knuckle driving, fighting with a convoy of eighteen-wheelers spraying rooster tails thicker than San Francisco fog. As I pulled onto the frontage road to my hotel, I thought I would be the only one at the conference who would travel in this crazy weather.


It was still raining when I rushed in to the civic center and met Nancy Huggins, the conference planner. With a quick hug, a big tote bag full of writing paraphernalia, and a finger pointing the direction I should go, I marched in to a room with forty people. Most came from within fifty miles, and the drive was on smaller roads—lucky them.


The lectures were on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday. Most were very informative, with areas in which I need help. Once again, this was my virgin tour of duty so I needed help everywhere. The meet-and-greet Friday buffet dinner was a great way to mingle, surprising me with a wide range of writers from not-even-starting to multi-best sellers. Everyone was eager to tell their story.


The best part of the conference was the one-on-one interviews. Here, I was looking forward to pitching my blood, sweat, and tears called “The War in Churchstone.” I was signed up for three interviews, each fifteen minutes, one each half day at the conference.


My Friday afternoon interview was with Evelyn Byrne, owner of a small press. After the three-sentence elevator talk then my full one-page query, she told me they were looking for historical fiction and had recently published a nonfiction World War II cookbook. She handed me her card and wrote something on the back. She said, "Mention this in the email you send me with the first three chapters." The rooster tails just turned to a rainbow in my head.


My second interview, Saturday morning, was with a woman who writes romance novels. Not my cup of tea, but I went in with an open mind. Her outline showed how women and men fall in love (want sex) differently. I am going to use that info in my next novel and I may use a touch of that women stuff on my wife.


Literary agent Cherry Weiner is a four-foot-eight ball of fire. During her lecture on Friday afternoon she mentioned many books I have read and some that are on my list. She represented all those authors, many best sellers. She was the big fish to catch. In her jovial but stern way, she stated she did not need fifteen minutes to tell if a novel is good. She needed only five, maybe ten, to decide. We all have heard that from editors and agents, but I wanted that precious five minutes for her to shoot me down in flames. All her interview times were taken, but she said she would come in at 7:30 am, thirty minutes before the lectures started Saturday morning, for anyone who wanted to talk to her.


Saturday morning, standing in the hallway at 7:15am, I waited alone. At 7:30 she turned the corner, surprised to see someone waiting. She gave me my five minutes, then ten. No one else came in early. She gave me all thirty minutes, telling me what to add and delete. She then pulled out her card and said to contact her in a few months when the revisions are finished.


My last interview was with Lee Thomas. With twenty books published and winner of the Bram Stoker award, his credentials are huge. After “fixing” my synopsis, we talked about his life and books. A very interesting man. Going to read his novels.


I came to this conference wanting two issues resolved. First I wanted feedback on my writing and I received four comments. Not all good, but not all bad. Second, the ability to be connected to writers. I joined an online writer's critique club while there and am eager to start.


Every bump in the road and every rooster tail making my bladder shiver will make me want to go to more writers’ conferences. I highly encourage everyone to go to as many as possible—I am a convert.


Keep writing, keep reading.



Patrick Hanford is a physician in Lubbock, Texas, and a member of the Caprock Writers' Alliance.


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