10 Reasons why every writer should come to this conference

When I first accepted the crazy notion that I was going to be a writer, I kept getting this advice: go to writers’ conferences and start networking. The idea made sense, but the price tag didn’t. I couldn’t afford tickets upwards of $500 on the off chance I meet someone who likes my pitch, and would remember me from the crowd of hundreds of other eager attendees.

If what you want isn’t out there, make it! It’s taken a lot of hard work, but I am proud to host a conference that is affordable (under $100 and includes lunch), and intimate. If you know a writer in the New York area, make sure they get a ticket while the price is still low (the price goes up $5 every week).

When and where is it, you ask?

Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014 from 10am-4pm in Times Sq.

Here are just some of the reasons why you should go:

  1. Meet an agent who might want to represent you!
  2. Hear from my favorite contemporary author, Aryn Kyle, about writers’ residency programs and the process of turning a short story into a novel. P.S. if you haven’t read her work, pick up a copy of The God of Animals today!
  3. Make a new best friend with the same interests and goals so you can start having creative dates together!
  4. It’s conveniently (depending on where you are) located in Times Square.
  5. Get a behind the scenes look at the publishing world, and hear about the difference between traditional and digital publishing.
  6. Get a free hour of guided writing, care of  Gotham Writers’ Workshop, in addition to a special discount for their classes.
  7. Take your craft seriously. When you spend money on your dreams, they start to become a reality.
  8. Leave the conference with new professional contacts, a clear sense of how to pitch your story, and some ideas for how to improve your story.
  9. Free lunch!
  10. Get out of the house, get out of the rut, get out of your head, and come and have creative fun with others!

You can buy tickets here, or check out the official website.

A fun moment at the last conference.

A fun moment at the last conference.

Exciting News!

Do you ever have one of those months where everything finally comes together? I hope you do, because it feels fantastic. After a lot of hard work, I have some great news to share:

  1. I have a new website for my Writers Work conference series, and I’ve added a writer’s retreat feature! I used the logo you guys chose. Check it out and let me know what you think.
  2. I sent out my first query letter for my novel!
  3. I submitted a short story to The New Yorker and The Missouri Review.
  4. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY…discounted tickets are now available for the next Writers Work Conference 9/20/14 in Times Sq. NY! Have lunch with an agent, hear about authors’ experiences of getting published, meet approachable editors and publishers who want to share the inside scoop with you, and connect with other writers. It’s going to be an amazing day
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Ahhh the joy of getting sh*t done!

A Place Where No One Should Have to Live: Remembering Kibera (Part 4)

A few days ago Kibera was mentioned at an event I attended and the name sounded so familiar. After a moment I realized it sounded familiar because I had been there three years ago.  I went on a volunteer trip to Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, with my dad and a group called Cross-Cultural Thresholds. How did I manage to completely forget about an experience that shook me to the core? Forgetting Kibera was a coping mechanism, because if I thought about it all the time I would never be able to do anything. How do I work on a novel when I know that there are 2 million people living in a slum with no electricity or running water? How do I enjoy time with my friends when I know kids are starving to death? While it serves no one to put my life on hold because there is suffering in the world, I do believe I have a responsibility to remember and share what I saw. I am reposting some of the emails I sent to Mike while I was there:

I heard the most incredible story from one of the local volunteers today. Jimmy grew up in a poor, rural area outside of Nairobi. The planes of Wilson Airport flew directly over his village and he dreamed of flying one of those planes. He found a magazine about flying and wrote a letter to every address listed in the directory. He kept doing that for years until finally he got one letter back from a man named David in Connecticut.

David encouraged Jimmie to study hard and follow his dreams, and they began a pen-pal relationship that lasted years. When Jimmy graduated from high school with great grades, David paid for him to go to college in Michigan. He trained to be a pilot there and then got a job in Arizona as a private pilot for the Mayo Clinic. The clinic offered to pay for his Masters but he really wanted to go back to Kenya and be a pilot at Wilson airport. He’s been flying for Air Kenya for 4 years now.

David is a volunteer on our trip and he asked Jimmy to meet us on the first day and share his story. He asked if he could help us in Kibira because he had never been there before. He immediately fell in love with the project. He’s joining the board of the daycare center and is going to become our liaison. He doesn’t have much money but he realized he was given a great gift from a man who encouraged him to study and now he wants to help hundreds of young kids study as well.

Jimmy’s story became our slogan for the trip. When someone said we couldn’t finish digging the foundation that day, another person said, “Well if Jimmy can fly…” Whenever something seemed hard, we just kept saying “Jimmy can fly.”

In other news, this morning we dispensed 200 pairs of Crocs to the kids at the daycare center. The kids went crazy for them. It was amazing to see their joy in receiving such ugly shoes but it was it was also gut wrenching to see the kids outside the daycare center watching this giveaway, barefoot and hungry. They stood outside the gate, hoping to get an extra pair but we didn’t have enough. Well it felt great to give these shoes away, it was a reminder that the gift of schools, wells and roads do a lot more good than finite, material goods. Despite how ugly they are, there will never be enough crocs to go around.

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A little girl receiving her first pair of shoes.

Afterward, Marina and I finished the mural. It’s really cheerful and the construction workers kept taking breaks to look at it and give us the thumbs up. In art school, the idea that art is supposed to be challenging and serious was crammed down our throats. Today was a nice reminder that art can also cheer people up and be pretty.

Last night at dinner we were talking about the book Many Lives, Many Masters. It’s by a professor who did a lot of research into past lives. As I was walking out of Kibera today, I thought  about that book and almost vomited. I had absolutely no control over where I was born, and I just as easily could have been born in Kibera. The thought that past and future lives could be real, freaked me out because as long as there’s the chance of being reborn, there’s the chance of being reborn in Kibera. I think a lot more people would do volunteer work, and donate money if they thought there was a chance they could be reborn on the other end of the lucky spectrum.

A Place Where No One Should Have to Live: Remembering Kibera (Part 3)

A few days ago Kibera was mentioned at an event I attended and the name sounded so familiar. After a moment I realized it sounded familiar because I had been there three years ago.  I went on a volunteer trip to Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, with my dad and a group called Cross-Cultural Thresholds. How did I manage to completely forget about an experience that shook me to the core? Forgetting Kibera was a coping mechanism, because if I thought about it all the time I would never be able to do anything. How do I work on a novel when I know that there are 2 million people living in a slum with no electricity or running water? How do I enjoy time with my friends when I know kids are starving to death? While it serves no one to put my life on hold because there is suffering in the world, I do believe I have a responsibility to remember and share what I saw. I am reposting some of the emails I sent to Mike while I was there:

So I was having a really hard time picking out a souvenir for you. I didn’t want to get a tacky trinket, and so I got you a son! There was an adorable boy at the daycare center who needed to be sponsored. He has big, white teeth and a dimple just like you! It’s just a dollar a day and it pays for three meals a day and all his school supplies.

Shwaib Ayub, the young boy I sponsored

Shwaib Ayub, the young boy I sponsored

[In a tragic turn of events, two weeks after I left Kibera, Schwaib was hit by a car and died instantly. I shared this terrible news with my friends and family, and together we raised over $1,500 to donate to his daycare center.  What happened to him was a tragedy, but there are still so many kids who need help there. Click here if you would like to make a donation in honor of Schwaib.]

Today it poured. And you don’t want to be in Kibera when it rains. There were streams of fecal waste, plastic bags and old shoes running past us. The smell is horrific. The pathways are just piles of slippery mud, and you have to hold onto the sides of the houses so you don’t fall down. When you touch the houses, the walls crumble apart.

Some pretty clever, make-shift umbrellas.

Some pretty clever, make-shift umbrellas.

 

A Place Where No One Should Have to Live: Remembering Kibera (Part 2)

A few days ago Kibera was mentioned at an event I attended and the name sounded so familiar. After a moment I realized it sounded familiar because I had been there three years ago.  I went on a volunteer trip to Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, with my dad and a group called Cross-Cultural Thresholds. How did I manage to completely forget about an experience that shook me to the core? Forgetting Kibera was a coping mechanism, because if I thought about it all the time I would never be able to do anything. How do I work on a novel when I know that there are 2 million people living in a slum with no electricity or running water? How do I enjoy time with my friends when I know kids are starving to death? While it serves no one to put my life on hold because there is suffering in the world, I do believe I have a responsibility to remember and share what I saw. I am reposting some of the emails I sent to Mike while I was there:

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Still not enough space, this is a vast improvement from classrooms in the streets.

Today we visited Drug Fighters, the daycare center that’s the influence for the daycare we’re building. Agnes started the school 15 years ago. She couldn’t afford to feed her own 4 kids, but whenever she heard about kids getting abused, abandoned, or exposed to drugs and or prostitution, she would find them and take them home with her. Soon she had over a hundred kids and she would get donations to feed them. She didn’t have a classroom so she would just teach them outside in the alleyways.

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Some of the happy kids at Drug Fighters. This is right before their assembly to greet us.

Eventually, Carter [the organizer of the group I was volunteering with] got involved and helped build the school for her. Now they have 284 students and feed them 2 meals a day. That’s typically the only food they get. The building is bright blue and there’s a courtyard in
the middle for kids to play safely play in. When we visited, we all noticed that it was the first time we saw the kids really being kids. They were jumping ropes, playing with balls, and chasing each other. It was a complete contrast to the children outside of the school who look lifeless, and too worried for their young ages.

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The kids could be entertained by a camera for hours. As soon as I took a picture of them, they would look at the little screen of themselves and then shriek at the image.

The kids sang songs for us and performed some poems they wrote. One girl, named Cynthia, was so articulate, charismatic and talented we all felt this terrible feeling that she
deserved so much more. If she had the opportunities we have in America, she would be the next Beyonce, but in Kibera her greatest opportunity is to get two meals a day.

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Cynthia and Carter

And then we met another Cynthia. She was chained to her bed for three years because she is autistic and there is a stigma against any sort of disabilities – they see it as the devil possessing the child . When Agnes rescued the little girl, Cynthia couldn’t see because she had been in darkness for so long her eyes hadn’t developed. She couldn’t speak and her muscles atrophied so she couldn’t even sit up. Agnes took Cynthia back to her school and found her a foster home. She made sure Cynthia got three meals a day and lots of hugs. Cynthia is now 9 years old and greeted us when we visited the school. She’s a ball of energy and loves to hug people. She can speak and she has complete vision. She’s great with rhythm so when the students want to sing a song they ask Cynthia to stand in the middle and clap the rhythm. This little person who was chained to a bed for three years has become a source of pride for the school.

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The inner courtyard felt like a safe haven in the middle of Kibera; a burst of happy blue midst all the rusting brown.

I forgot to tell you about the flying latrines. At first people were digging pits for the latrines. When the latrines were full, people would cover them with dirt and build a house on top of it. Now there’s no more free space for the pits so people poop into plastic bags and leave
them in their house until night time. Then when it’s dark they go out and throw the bags as far as they can. The man who we’re working with at the new school told us that one night he was hit in the face by one of these bags and that’s when he decided he needed to change Kibera. I would think a lot of things if I were hit by a bag of shit, and I don’t think one of them would be: how can I stay here longer?

In the afternoon, I helped dig the foundation for the daycare center. After a few hours I  was happy to trade in the shovel for a paint brush. Mariana and I started a mural for the new center, and we painted the gates of Drug Fighters.

The new gate for Drug Fighters.

The new gate for Drug Fighters.

 

A Place Where No One Should Have to Live: Remembering Kibera (Part 1)

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A view of Kibera, Kenya, with its one water source.

A few days ago Kibera was mentioned at an event I attended and the name sounded so familiar. After a moment I realized it sounded familiar because I had been there three years ago.  I went on a volunteer trip to Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, with my dad and a group called Cross-Cultural Thresholds. How did I manage to completely forget about an experience that shook me to the core? Forgetting Kibera was a coping mechanism, because if I thought about it all the time I would never be able to do anything. How do I work on a novel when I know that there are 2 million people living in a slum with no electricity or running water? How do I enjoy time with my friends when I know kids are starving to death? While it serves no one to put my life on hold because there is suffering in the world, I do believe I have a responsibility to remember and share what I saw. I am reposting some of the emails I sent to Mike while I was there:

 

Today was really hard. There is nothing that can prepare you for Kibera.

The river, the one source of drinking water in Kibera.

The river, the one source of drinking water in Kibera.

First we drove as far as we could into the slum. The road is just wide enough for one car but there are people going to the bathroom, cooking, and hanging out in the middle of the road, so it takes about 30 minutes to travel a mile. We had to walk the rest of the way into the center of the slum. Kibera is built around train tracks, and I didn’t realize they’re still in use. We were walking along the tracks and then all of a sudden a train came and we had to rush to squeeze into an alley way to not get hit. The shacks are within inches of the train. Everything shakes, the babies start crying, the train’s horn is blaring, and you can’t imagine how loud it is. These are trains transporting garbage so as it passes the trash flies everywhere.

Before the train came through, there was an open market of stales lined up on the tracks. The people have learned how to close up shop in a matter of seconds.

Before the train came through, there was an open market of stales lined up on the tracks. The people have learned how to close up shop in a matter of seconds.

[We were volunteering with Cross-Cultural Thresholds to help build a new daycare center that could house all the children who needed care. First we wanted to see the current daycare center and hear from some of the families that use it.]

We first visited the daycare center. There were 45 children in a room smaller than our livingroom and they were all sitting with perfect posture and asking us repeatedly “how are you?” It was hard to believe this place was an improvement for the community, but the guy who started the center said that before this place existed, mothers would mix alcohol with milk to make the babies sleep the whole day so they could go to work. The kids have no books, pens or pencils. they just sit there for 8 or 9 hours memorizing numbers and English phrases. We’re going to get them lots of crayons and coloring books tomorrow.

They stay seating like this for eight hours.

They stay seating like this for eight hours.

Next we split up and visited three houses. The houses are all 8×8 feet with sheet metal walls and roof, and dirt floors. There aren’t any roads, just alleyways that are only wide enough for one person to walk through. There’s a constant stream of human waste flowing through the alleyways. The place smells like a mix of a sewage treatment plant and a garbage dump.

The space between the houses.

The space between the houses. The wet part is sewer water.

The first woman we met had four kids and her husband died 6 years ago. She had malaria and we were able to set her up with some medicine. She couldn’t speak English – only people who go to school learn English otherwise they speak the tribal language (which actually has a lot of Arabic in it). She had no food in her house and had no idea when and how she would get her next meal because she couldn’t work until she got over the malaria. She said her only happiness in life was knowing that her kids would get 2 meals a day at the daycare center. If it didn’t exist, she said they would have been dead already.

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One of the adorable kids posing for us outside his house.

The next woman we met was HIV positive and so was her husband and youngest child. She had 6 kids. Again in an 8×8 foot house. There was no electricity. All 8 people sleep on one twin size mattress or the dirt floor. She said the childcare center was the only thing keeping her family alive.

The last woman had five kids and no husband. She was really embarrassed to talk to us, and kept covering her face and crying. Her shack was downhill so when it rains her house fills up ankle-deep with sewage water. She said that before her kids were in childcare she would go out to try to find work (pretty much the only legal job the women can get there is doing laundry for a dollar a day and this work is unreliable) and if she couldn’t find work no one could eat, but now she knew at least her kids would get some food. She was 2 months behind on rent (rent’s about $18 a month) and there is nowhere else but the streets (and remember that the streets are mud alleyways filled with sewage).

We left the house visits with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. The women had no opportunities, and they had given up on their lives. They seemed to be staying alive just to make sure their kids had a place to sleep.

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The job site. My dad’s the one in red.

Afterward we went to the site where we are building another childcare center. It was really motivating to meet the mothers and hear how crucial these centers are for their survival. We were digging the foundation and we dug like our lives depended on it because we knew that their lives depended on. There were three construction workers from Kibera working along side us and afterward the thanked us for coming all this way to help them. One man had a tear in his eye when he thanked me. One person told me that a lot of Americans do slum tourism where a bus will drive a huge group to the edge of Kibera, everyone will get out take pictures and then immediately leave. He said he didn’t believe we would actually stay and help build with them.

We spent the whole afternoon clearing away rocks from the job site and burning the junk that was embedded in the ground. When we walked out of the job site, the kids who were trying to hold our hands on the way in took one look at us and ran.

My dad got obsessed with cow hoof soup. We saw a man making it in a giant vat on our way out. He had about 5 cow legs in the vat and he boils it down for three hours.It becomes really thick. After he sells the soup he’ll sell the leftover cow bone to jewelers who make jewelry out of it.

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Another cute kid.

When to spend money on your dreams

Going after your professional dreams is already a scary endeavor and it can be especially intimidating when there’s money involved. Oftentimes you have to make a large investment before you have any guarantee that your ideas will pay off. I’m a huge advocate of staying thrifty in the early stages. While my baby product idea didn’t work out, I saved thousands of dollars by making my own prototypes and I had a lot of fun in the process. I wrote about how great it was to save hundreds of dollars by having my friend do a photo shoot for my Brutal First Impressions website. But recently I’ve been changing my tune. I paid for an amazing photographer for my first writers’ conference and I hired a talented graphic designer to create the logo for the conference series.

me at conference

I could have relied on my friends to take cellphone pictures like this of the conference…

Go social media!

but it was such a relief knowing that a professional was capturing all the great moments and that I would have something really beautiful to present to future sponsors.

So here’s how I’ve decided when to spend money and when to save:

When to be frugal:

  • If money is your excuse for not taking the next step.  Pare down your idea as much as possible and see what you can do on your own.  Taking a cheap, baby step forward will help you feel more comfortable when it’s time to take an expensive step forward.
  • If you enjoy doing it. I have a friend who makes beautiful jewelry. If she hired people to help her, or outsourced the work entirely, she’d be able to expand her company, but she was able to start with very little seed money and she loves working on the jewelry into the wee hours of the night.
  • If it’s important to have a personal touch.  When we were making our wedding guest books it was important to me that each piece was handmade. I loved all the unique flaws. I could have spent a fortune to have someone else make them, but I loved giving out a gift that had lots of personality. This was an example of a business idea, but I will tell you this, if you want to make a product but you’re afraid it won’t look sleek enough, there is always someone out there that will buy it for its imperfections.

When to spend:

  • If you’re supporting a friend in a new business.
    When Callan announced her new graphic design business I jumped at the opportunity to help a friend out while also benefiting from her services. If you’re starting a business, you’ll need your friends to support you so start setting up the precedent by supporting them now!
  • If you’re not taking yourself seriously.
    I know if I put on a nice blazer I instantly feel more professional, and the same goes for the image of your business. Get some nice business cards, upgrade your website, get a real logo, sign up for a networking event. And while you’re at it, invest in a wardrobe that matches your dream job. Spending some money will remind you that this is not just a hobby but a future career.
  • You are asking others for money.
    How can you ask others to invest in you if you’re not willing to invest in yourself? Spend some money to present the best possible package to your potential investors and send a clear sign that you are serious.
  • If you’re stressed out.
    If you dreamed up the business, your creativity is your most important asset. Don’t distract yourself with things that someone else can do. If you have no intention of becoming a professional programmer, don’t waste time learning how to build your own website. Hire someone who needs the money and will do a much better job than you in half the time. Spend your time and energy on what you’re good at.

I’d love to hear from you. How do you decide when to save and when to spend? Was there something that was so totally worth it? Was there something you shouldn’t have wasted your money on?