The North Carolina Literary Festival is
supposed to be every other year. My first fest was in 2009, just a few months after I heard more than a dozen people at the Southampton Writers Conference tell me to read Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, which had won the Pulitzer that year. (I picked up the only copy in the airport on my way home from the conference and LOVE it.) When I saw Elizabeth Strout on the 2009 lineup for the NC Lit Fest I had to go. The fest is free, and fortunately that year it was not far from home–on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill. I loved it. Got Elizabeth Strout’s signature. Told her about about everyone praising her at the Southampton Writers Conference. When I saw the 2010 SWC summer roster her name was a new addition. 🙂
In 2012 I attempted online search after online search to find nothing about the next fest. Rumors said the fest rotated from Western NC, to the coast, to the Piedmont–but nothing came up. I still don’t know what happened that year, but I was excited that not only was the fest occurring in 2014, still free, easy to get to on the campus of NC State in Raleigh, but that I was actually in town and had calendar space open for it!
Although the festival is four days and started this past Thursday, I attended a few sessions Saturday afternoon and may catch another one or two Sunday. Whether you were there or not, here are a few things I learned at the fest. Plus, check out #nclitfest on your social media circles to get an inside look and other attendee scoop.
- Don’t listen. Maybe this should be “practice selective hearing” instead. At the Atlanta Writers Conference a few years ago an agent told me that I needed to amass credits in literary journals before she or any agent would seriously consider my manuscript. She encouraged me to focus on publishing short stories and later give attention to my full-length work. Since then I’ve only had time to focus on my writing business and not my creative work, but this year I’ve been devoting time to writing short fiction and started a daytime critique group to polish my work. What I was reminded of today at the NC Literary Festival is that Margaret Wrinkle (who spoke on the First Novel Panel along with Megan Mayhew Bergman and Kim Church) admitted to never writing a short story. She said it is something she has never mastered. I personally know several writers who have landed traditional publishing contracts and have never published anything in their lives. Wrinkle’s comment reminded me to be less focused on journal submissions and instead write a really good book.
- Happy NOT to volunteer. Having volunteered at many festivals around the Triangle (Full Frame, Artsplosure, Hog Day, First Night, SPARKcon) and always enjoying my experiences, I have to admit there is a wonderful freedom in attending a festival only as a guest. No one is relying on you. You don’t need to lug supplies around. Your time is your own. You don’t miss out on events that you would normally miss during your volunteer shift. The volunteers at the lit fest were super informative, helpful, and aplenty! The organization was superb. I never felt lost and one volunteer knew where I was going before I even told her.
- Writers groups are important. Raleigh-based Kim Church (author of the hot-off-the-presses Byrd) spoke on the First Novel Panel and gave credit to her writing group several times. She stressed how regularly attending their sessions held her accountable. She kept producing new work and using their feedback to improve her work. Her main message: Your writers group needs to inspire you, not flatten you.
- Get beta readers. A guest contributor to Write Naked, Tamika Burgess recently sent me a personal
essay she is trying to publish. She sent me the essay along with a questionnaire and simply asked if I had the time to answer the questions about her work and that there was no problem if I declined. She was organized, offered a clear questionnaire that saved me time from having to line edit and provide a full critique, and now she has the feedback that she needs to make revisions. At the NC Lit Fest I attended the UNC Cookbook Author Panel (featuring Charlotte Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis, News & Observer food writer Andrea Weigl, freelance writer Debbi Moose, and former food developer-turned cookbook author Belinda Ellis). Debbi Moose talked about her process while developing her cookbook. She made dishes and had beta tasters. She provided a questionnaire with each food sample. Instead of getting empty feedback like “not good” or “send more” (her words!), she created a questionnaire that addressed what she needed. Just like Tamika did. Let others look at your work, but then pull out what you need from them.
- Livermush and sonker. Yeah, there are no typos there. Sorry this one is not writing-related, but from the UNC Cookbook Author Panel I learned that the two iconic dishes of North Carolina are livermush and sonker. Yuck and yum. Oh, another yum and fest perk: NC State’s library serves ice cream: