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Jambalaya Writers Conference

Jambalaya Writers’ Conference 2015 After-Action Report

Under the command of Commodore Lydia Lourbacos, our squadron assembled in the early post-dawn hours Saturday at a local staging area (the tarmac outside Wal-Mart) before jumping for Houma space.

Our squadron consisted of two vessels, one helmed by the Commodore herself and the other under the command of Captain Dennis Melancon. Navcomps functioned perfectly and we egressed hyperspace in the correct coordinates allowing us to dock our vessels shortly before the first speakers took the stage. Commodore Lourbacos, noting one sign-up sheet for time slots to meet with an agent or editor was not full, brought it to our attention. I signed up eagerly for such a slot although I had not prepared a pitch.

The presentations were informative and entertaining and the speakers friendly and eager to provide answers to attendee’s questions.

Lunch was provided by the Conference. Plates were filled by the Conference and handed out. I anticipated a buffet style allowing us to choose what foods we wished and in what proportion but the manner chosen by the Conference was exceedingly efficient. There were too few chairs, which seemed a bit of an oversight, but nearby benches took up most of the slack. I actually enjoyed my salad which I take as a sign of my steadily increasing age as previously I denounced the substance as “that’s not food, that’s what food eats.”

I spent an hour formulating my pitch for my novel in my head. A local woman (in rather fetching Goth attire, I might add) came over to the bench where I was sitting so she could smoke (there was one of those cigarette disposal posts next to the bench). She smoked clove cigars of all things, perhaps in keeping with her Gothic nature. We chatted amicably and having made her aware of the New Orleans By Gaslight anthology, she said she’d buy a copy when she got home. She asked me who my pitch session was with and when I said I didn’t know, warned me that one of the people who was taking sessions only represented non-fiction. Already nervous, I spent the next hour honing my pitch for my non-fiction project in case I drew the non-fiction person.

I went upstairs to await my pitch, emptying my bladder beforehand. My stomach churned nervously. An older gentleman left the pitch room and called out my name telling me the room was mine.

I went inside ready to give my two pitches. The nice lady therein asked me what I was looking for and I said, I was looking for an agent. She apologized and explained that the Conference had put her in an awkward position. She wasn’t an agent nor an editor at a publishing company. She was an editor who helps people improve their work so they can self-publish it. She gave me some basic tips on how to get an agent — stuff I already knew, honestly, and apologized again, giving me her business card as I mentioned I did do some self-published work. I gave her my business card and departed.

I attended two other presentations which, like the previous ones, were informative and entertaining. The most useful presentation was on how to produce book proposals for agents and editors and the speaker provided handouts. She did make the classic mistake of handing them out before her talk. People tend not to listen to you but to instead read the handout when you do that.

After the presentations, there was a social. I thought we were about to leave and after looking in on the social, proceeded downstairs somehow missing my fellows who went upstairs to the social.

As I sat outside, the sky exploded.

The skies had been grey all day but no rain had fallen. Out of nowhere, there was a sudden boom and a torrential downpour I lack the words to describe but shall nonetheless, out of pride as a writer, attempt: It was as though a hurricane’s rains were poured out onto the city of Houma in one great instant, without any wind whatsoever, an epic drowning of the land from an ocean above the firmament clearly and easily justifying the local government’s flash flood warnings.

I can’t swim, by the way.

Calling upstairs to find out if we were leaving, Lydia told me they were in the social and that an editor was talking to people about their book projects. She asked me if I wanted to speak with him. I was confused but my commlink’s poor quality and the booming noise of the ongoing downpour made me close the channel to attempt direct communication.

Making my way to the social, Lydia pointed to the editor. He was only speaking with one person. I asked who he was and why I should wish to speak with him and was told he was one of the few editors at a publishing house who still accepted books ‘over the transom.’ And so I went over to make my pitch. I went over and waited while he spoke to another attendee. The¬†gentleman who gave the screenwriting presentation came over and asked me if I had written a screenplay, which I had. We chatted about my question about whether or not it was advantageous to attempt to get a local film company to make your script or to wait and push for an LA firm to look at the project. He said any company making your script into an actual film is worthwhile and advantageous to your career as a screenwriter.

I spoke with the editor in question afterward, and gave him a copy of New Orleans By Gaslight to keep and my business card. He gave me his business card and asked me to send him some of my work. I thanked him and departed.

I then asked Lydia if she would be my agent, which she laughed about but technically did not decline.

On the way out, Lydia drew my attention to Deborah, who was attending the conference and asked if she was returning to the writing circle. Having just recently experienced the effectiveness of the capable and highly organized Commodore’s advice, I wasted no time in making my way over to Deborah and asking if she planned to return to the writers’ circle. She confessed that she had meant to attend previous sessions but had had to deal with the illness and passing away of a beloved feline companion. I gave my condolences and Deborah thanked me for them and said she would do her best to make the next meeting.

Our squadron then made a short hyperspatial fold to a nearby waystation called “Cajun Critters” for resupply and R&R. I, being allergic to seafood, was made nervous by the numerous model sea creatures adorning the outside of the station but found a two-patty burger and potato salad on the menu and felt I would be safe with that. I was. In fact, my two-patty burger was so huge, I wound up eating it with fork and knife as an open-faced sandwich, one patty on one bun and one patty on the other. It was delicious and filling. The potato salad was tasty if a little too smooth. I prefer my potato salad a bit more chunky. I didn’t have room for dessert. I do recommend the restaurant though. Our server was young and inexperienced but we muddled through and had a good time.

We then egressed Houma space for the stars of home.

The Commodore, with Xavier as navigator, dropped me back off at my residence and I repeated Captain Melanon’s jape thanking the Commodore for “twisting everyone’s arm” to get us to the Conference. The Commodore purchased from me the other sample copy of the New Orleans By Gaslight anthology I’d brought with me to the Conference, potentially bringing my sales for the day to two when I hadn’t planned any.

It had been a very full and entertaining day and I’d come back with several business cards and notes from speakers as well as a invitation from a Penguin editor to send him my work so the two hours of agonizing over pitches I didn’t get to give wasn’t too bad. I recommend the Conference to the reader without reservation and hope we can organize such an event here in New Orleans in the future.

Cdr. Brandon Black, signing off

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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.