The first time I went to Muse and The Marketplace, Grub Street's annual conference, I was so frightened that I could barely hold to the promise I'd made to myself: to speak with one agent. That's all, I promised myself. One agent.
I did it. Nothing came of it, but I did it, and believe me, that was pushing myself way out of my comfort zone. I sat at one of the tables where you paid fifty dollars to sit with authors, editors and agents. I remember none of them, because I held my breath the entire time, certain they wondered why this middle-aged lady was shelling out fifty bucks when it was so obvious that she was a complete and utter loser.
I spoke to two people:
1) A man who told me he was writing a (humor) book on menstruation (really) called "Riding the Red Pony." I am not lying.
2) I briefly spoke with a young woman, Becky Tuch, who was young and beautiful and I was certain was wondered why this middle-aged complete loser was at this conference, rather than home fluffing pillows or ironing her velour pantsuit.
But I did listen to Andre Dubus III, Matthew Pearl and Gish Jen as they spoke about their lives as writers, and though I felt very nose-pressed-against-the-glass, I felt myself being pulled ever more towards my goal and dream of publishing a novel. For me, there were no celebrities, no actors, or rock stars, who could excite me as did these writers.
Last weekend, I had the great good fortune of being on a panel at the Muse. Even more fortunate for me, it was a panel led by the most generous of writers, Jenna Blum, to whom I owe a great deal after having the great good fortune of participating in her Master Novel workshop at Grub Street.
Jenna, like so many at The Muse, is a giving writer, who understands the importance of putting out a hand after her own success (having become a NYT bestseller for her first book, Those Who Save Us, her legions of fans await the May release of The Stormchasers.)
Lunchtime, I sat with Elinor Lipman (at a table where others were paying fifty dollars-though I am certain it was a connection with Elinor, the editors and the agents they lusted for) who was as accessible and caring as she is multi-published.
At a party the previous evening, I met one of my all-time writing heroes-Dr. Pauline Chen, author of Final Exam, who, as she listened to me gush, put forward the warmth of one's dream mother and who seemed genuinely thrilled about my book.
The Muse and The Marketplace is sometimes a place where one's nose is pressed against the glass, and yet it is also a great equalizer. It's where NYT bestsellers and multi-prize winners happily offer advice to those still climbing the ladder-no matter their age.
Actually, age disappears with the shared joy of books and writing. For instance, that beautiful young woman, Becky Tuch? We ended up sharing the joys of Jenna's Master Novel workshops, being in a writing group together and are now partners with 11 others in a multi-writer blog.
Oh, and we're also friends.
Thank you Grub Street. You've supported and grown a community of writers in Boston and beyond (neophyte to Pulitzer Prize winners) with respect and love for all.
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