great writing escape.
Tripp offers her views from a sunny Gulf Coast satellite campus
in St. Petersburg, where the annual Florida Suncoast Writers
Conference brings instructors who shed light on the writing
Florida Suncoast Writer's Conference, sponsored
University of South Florida,
is an event with
more than twenty-six years
of outstanding workshops,
literary agents, and editors.
Special to Word Smitten
Appearing as a keynote speaker for a past event,
Carl Hiaasen takes time for a book signing.
the winter months, people in cold weather climates plan winter
vacations to get out of the snow. If like me, you hold a "day"
job, with a novel sitting on your computer (or in a drawer)
then you may want to head south to get out of the snow and wrap
yourself in a book jacket.
not plan your vacation time to coincide with the Florida Suncoast
Writers Conference? Held annually in February, the event offers
tropical breezes, lush palm trees, and most importantly, publishing's
most celebrated names.
you are also looking to get close up and personal time with
an agent, then this conference lets you rub elbows, if not manuscripts.
It's a well known fact that an author's representative is a
link to the literary brass ring which we all seek.
aspiring writers, we look for them, dig for interesting research
about them, and wonder if they are the mirage in the desert.
Regardless of their specialty, they are God to us who walk in
the land of the unpublished. They speak, we take notes, they
walk, we follow (after attending several conferences where every
agent seemed to dress in black, I found myself editing my wardrobe)
these are the masters of our fate and suddenly they are 10 feet
away and acting very approachable. Imagine my surprise when
I met Betsy Lerner.
Betsy Lerner (of the Gernert Company) was an agent who spoke
at the 2002 FSWC, and I sat through all her sessions to reap
the rewards of agent illumination.
Sometimes agents are rude and sometimes they are brusque to
the point of appearing to be annoyed to even have to be at a
conference. But always, they are forthright. Betsy Lerner surprised
me by being funny. She put the audience at ease with her humor,
becoming human in the process. Ms. Lerner still insisted that
we basically have talent, but went out of her way to emphasize
the importance of "whom" you send your work to. She
told us of her own dream to become a "Poet of Note,"
her transition from editing to agenting and she did it with
grace and humor.
were times during the workshop sessions when you could see her
biting her tongue over some questions from the audience, rolling
her eyes when an aspiring writer spent fifteen minutes outlining
his book on hermit crabs, but never did she moan out loud or
run from the room screaming. Writers arrive at these sessions
with various degrees of skill and she understood and allowed
for that diverse audience. Her lectures were succinct, to the
point, no-nonsense. "Write a good cover letter," (she
brought examples), "Write a better first page," and
"Edit your work," make it the best it can be.
told us about turning down Janet Evanovich as a client, (bet
that stings) and somehow after listening to three lectures,
I suddenly got over my fear of agents and realized that they
were human, as different as the writers in the room, each choosing
what they liked best. It wasn't personal, or even earth shattering,
the St. Petersburg campus of USF, the sense of community is
expansive. The campus, small enough to easily walk from the
main hall to the workshop classrooms, offers waterfront views,
a quaint pub, a campus bookstore and café, and the well-run
astonishing program has grown with each year, introducing aspiring
and published authors to some of the best writers in the business.
The 2002 Conference headliner was Carl Hiaasen, and other years
have featured Frank McCourt, Wally Lamb, Jane Smiley, and John
Updike. The conference, under the auspices of the University
of South Florida, is typically three days of intensive offerings.
Beginning with a keynote address followed by specific writing
sessions, there are more than five workshops per hour. Everything
from "How to Write Sex Scenes" and "Writing the
Blockbuster Novel" to "Plotting Techniques" tempts
the would-be writer. Getting there is not the most difficult
task. Choosing which session, that's agony. Besides current
best-selling authors, FSWC offers lectures from magazine writers
and editors, poets and in 2002 they added a songwriter.
year the conference breaks its own attendance record. This well
known and well regarded conference, enduring and growing for
more than a quarter century, may no longer be a well-kept secret.
In spite of the worldwide 2003 travel slowdown the 2004 session
was crowded. When you attend the conference (and I have many
times in the past) I want to tell you two things. First, do
not miss the keynote address. Second, if you choose to attend
a session where an agent is giving a hands-on workshop, get
to the classroom early if you want a seat. Or be prepared to
Tripp writes both commercial fiction and mystery/romance novels
while searching for the right agent and a publisher. She lives
in Florida with her husband, children, and critters.
Smitten's Storycove (Flash Fiction)
Fiction (Short Stories)