The University of New Mexico Summer Writers’ Conference: Counting Chickens

Last weekend, we presented at the University of New Mexico Summer Writers’ Conference in Santa Fe. We heard great pitches; we met fantastic writers. One of those writers blogged about the conference and pitching David. Thanks to R.A. Schneider and Beyond Belief for allowing us to share UNM 2016: Counting Chickens.

University of New Mexico Summer Writers' Conference in Santa Fe logo overlaying skyline of Santa Fe


It reads like a fairytale:   A man, afraid of pursuing his dreams, takes a leap of faith toward them.  He attends The University of New Mexico Summer Writers’ Conference in Santa Fe, on the wings of his wife’s benediction, “I just want you to be happy.”

The conference goes well; beyond his wildest dreams, in every aspect.  Keynote speaker Sandra Cisneros reaches into his chest and wrests convulsive tears. Workshop peers share trust and experience with genuine good will.

Reactions to his workshop writing sample place him in a state of shock:  “Real-Deal”  “Killer” “Reminds me of Bernard Cooper.”  “At its best, reminiscent of ‘Glass Castle’.” “Can you get a full draft ready for the Master Class next year?”  Surreal.

Friday night holds one last opportunity to extend the enchantment: “Pitchapalooza.”   Billed as the American Idol of the literary world, lucky writers’ (names drawn from a hat) have one minute to pitch their book idea to an expert panel. The winner receives, along with a critique of their pitch, a package of prizes including introduction to an agent; a gateway to book deals.

“Why not,” he thinks?  Then he remembers Mary.   She flies in to Albuquerque Friday at 6:45 PM, in the heart of Pitchapalooza’s time slot.

An epic dilemma.  Conflict in act two?

There has to be a way to pitch and pick her up.  Think!  Ask Mary to sit in the Albuquerque airport for three hours while he pitches?   She would not be happy.  Wasting her night would be bad enough, but there’s no guarantee his name will be drawn from the hat.  Worst and best case scenarios both fail. An airport shuttle? $145 one-way.  That’s out.  Light Rail?   Last train leaves for Santa Fe before her touch-down.  Damocles laughs.

Forced to choose priorities, the pitch must wait.  “Besides,” he tells himself, “my writing’s not that good; delusions of grandeur.” He sleeps, resigned to missing Pitchapalooza, while preserving the happiness of she who makes him happiest.

Friday. The man shuffles to the hotel breakfast bar, with its promise of self-made waffles, over-ripe fruit, and guests in Crocs, or worse — bare feet.   What kind of people come to a breakfast bar in bare feet?   He scans up from the man’s wiggling toes, past ragged shorts and sleeveless faux-frat T-shirt with a mock coat of arms: “Reed College:  “Atheism. Communism.Free Love.”  Barefootie is writing in a composition book, making a public show like all the wannabe’s; like the man himself has done.  His eyes come to rest on the face, the wild shock of gray hair.  He has to say something.

Carpe mother-fucking Diem.

“Excuse me, but Could I e-mail a pitch to you?   I can’t make it to Pitchapalooza tonight. I have to pick up my wife in Albuquerque at the same time, and marriage comes before art.”

David Sterry, co-inventor of Pitchapalooza and one half of “The Book Doctors,”image puts his pen down and looks at the man. “Wow…sometimes the universe conspires against you, eh? But sure. Here’s my card.”  The man begins to thank Sterry for the opportunity, turning to leave.

“So what’s your book about,” Sterry asks? The man stops dead, along with his heart, turning back.

“Seriously?  You’ll let me pitch you?”  He sits and pitches. It’s a flawed pitch. It’s a spiked change-up, a slider in the dirt, but he completes it in the allotted minute.

Sterry sits back, rakes his fingers through his electric mane, and exhales, eyes bugging…”Whoooo!  That’s a hell of a story!  That’s something one of the major houses would be interested in, if you can get it right.  That’s got a lot of ‘Running With Scissors’ to it.”

Always an if. A huge if. Twenty-five years of “What if?”

But this is the second time this week published memoirists have looked him in the eye and said this:  Potential for major publishing-house interest.  If.  Twice more the man tries to rise and thank the Book Doctor, attempting to minimize the breakfast imposition.

“No, wait…let me tell you how to fix the pitch.”  Sterry spends 10 minutes teaching, more than the five minutes promised at Pitchapalooza, finishing with this:  “…and when you’ve perfected the pitch, get it to me.  Memoirs are our specialty… we have a huge network of agents, and it’s in our best interests to make you as successful as we can.”

The shock has returned.   The man stands, shakes Sterry’s hand, and walks away to prepare for the last day of workshop. The magical, the enchanting  University of New Mexico Summer Writers’ Conference.  He warms to the thought of meeting his wife at the gate.

Sometimes the universe conspires with you. He is happy, and he will return. No “if.”


This post first appeared on Beyond Belief by R.A. Schneider. R.A. Schneider, author, blogger at Beyond Belief

About David Sterry

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, book editor, activist, and book doctor. His first memoir, Chicken, was an international bestseller, and has been translated into 10 languages. “As laconic as Dashiell Hammett, as viscerally hallucinogenic as Hunter S Thompson. Sex, violence, drugs, love, hate, and great writing, what more could you ask for?” – The Irish Times.

, , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply