I attended Barrelhouse’s Conversations & Connections writer’s conference this past weekend, and I found it immensely helpful. The panels and keynote readers were amazing, but the thing that drew me to this conference was the chance to do Speed Dating with Editors from literary magazines across the country. Since I’m still relatively new to the literary scene, I’d never met any editors about my work, so I was both nervous and excited, and I had no idea what to expect.
Since we only got 10 minutes with each editor, I brought a piece that was very short (less than 400 words), so they could read really snappily. This short piece was sort of experimental: all dialogue, recalling a conversation that I repeatedly had with my mother in which she would tell me to call my father, and then a short convo with him.
I chose to do the piece exclusively in dialogue because the setting and gestures were not important to those conversations. It was more to display how the pain of fatherlessness played out in my life on a day-to-day basis, which was through my mother unintentionally constantly reminding me of the fact that I was not close to my father. The conversations with my dad were always short because, while he was friendly, he never showed the appropriate amount of interest in my life, so it hurt to talk to him.
Even without narrative or real prose, these ideas come across clearly in the dialogue. But I know that a flash non-fiction piece made up of just dialogue is very different from what is typically seen in the industry these days, so I was excited to hear what the editors had to say about it.
The first person I met, a man, did not get it at all. He told me that there was no story in my piece, that just because people are talking didn’t mean that anything was happening, and if I’d watched this in a movie, it would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it? He said that I needed more drama—the father missing the graduation would be much more interesting. This editor failed to give me any concrete advice, so I have no idea what he would have wanted me to do to make it better. In truth, it felt like working for one of my old bosses again. It really sucked for that to have been my first meeting with an editor. But I shook his words off, got Peruvian chicken for lunch, then met with my next person.
The second person, a woman, actually laughed out loud at the funny part of the story! I was thrilled! Then she said she really liked it! She gave me great suggestions, such as changing the title to something more emotionally evocative and to add, not narrative, but a meditation at the end that sounded almost like rhythmic poetry. Then she told me to send it to her when her magazine’s submission period re-opens! (EEEEkkkk!!!) I made those changes today, and I can tell you that I feel so much more confident about the piece. I pray that her journal takes it because it would be amazing to be published in it.
The third person, also a man, didn’t laugh out loud, but liked the risk of an all-dialogue piece and suggested that I make the piece even longer or more experimental. He didn’t embrace it with open arms, but he still seemed more accepting than the first guy, and that was really all that mattered.
I was seeking some level of validation by meeting with three editors, and I think I got what I was looking for. Reiterating, meeting with that first editor was absolutely awful and was so reflective of my work experience that I really wanted to give up, right then and there. But thank God other people understood me and my work, and proved that I and my work matter. I’m holding on to that feeling tight because I’ve got my first meetings with real literary agents about my book on Saturday, and I cannot wait.