Adventures with Words – October 2023

Adventures with Words – October 2023

#12… does that mean I’ve been doing this for a year already?

*checks notes* Ok, not quite because at first I was doing two a month… That started December 2022. And I skipped September.. I was busy. Busy with what? Keep reading.

PNWA Writers Conference 2023

I went to my very first writers con a couple of weeks ago. I had a great time and learned a lot. And I pitched to a lit agent, which I’ll tell you about in a little bit.  I went to some workshops and learned a lot and got some great workshops. Most of the workshops I went to were given by just two of the presenters – Elizabeth Boyle and Damon Suede. Both are successful authors and veteran presenters. Damon, who started in theater, is a dynamic and engaging performer who has useful information and techniques to pass on to other writers. I enjoyed Elizabeth’s way of engaging the class and her sense of humor.

Before I could enjoy the workshops, however. I had an important piece of business to take care of Friday afternoon.

What happened with the pitch?!

As part of the conference registration, I had an opportunity to pitch to one or more agents during a pitching block. Each interaction was limited to 4 minutes – speed dating for writers and agents. There were pitch practice sessions ahead of the conference, a panel discussion with the agents on what they were looking for and how to pitch effectively, and there are endless resources online. One piece of advice I started with was to keep the pitch 90 seconds or less, so there would be time for the agent to ask questions. I can’t even tell you how many versions I wrote and hacked at to get it short enough. Before I left home Friday morning, I printed it out and put it in the bag with my laptop.

The pitch opp was at 2 pm on Friday. I got to the conference around 10:15 and slipped into the agent panel. Afterward I got lunch and then took a look at the vendors tables. Books, books, books… and a table of editors from Allegory Editing. I chatted with them and they mentioned that they offered free pitch feedback. I read my pitch. They deemed it too long and said I needed to pull the keywords into the first paragraph, along with other great advice. I sat in one of the ballrooms half listening to a presentation and mostly working on the pitch. This pitch was about 90% of the reason I came to the conference, so I wasn’t going to waste a moment if I could make improvements.  I started with my laptop, with a google doc, and then pulled it up on my phone to read and tweak and reread.  By the time I sat down with the agent, the pitch was 3 brief paragraphs:

Hi, I’m Cameron and I’m pitching “If Elephant Ears Could Talk” –  an approximately 65000 word YA coming-of-age murder mystery with a hidden identity reveal at the end. This story features nonbinary and queer characters.

Erika (they/them) is focused on their future – getting out of their boring backward hometown and on to art school. 

The summer before senior year gets exciting when Erika decides to investigate the murder of the amusement park owner. By the time they know who the killers are, Erika is in a life or death situation. On the plus side, they know who their birth family is and that the murder victim was their grandfather. Now they just need to get out alive to claim their inheritance and bring the killers to justice. ( (redacted to prevent spoilers)

The agent was Alisha West (she/they) of Victress Literary. I chose to pitch to her first after going to her agent page. Here was an agent who not only wanted fiction, including YA and mystery, she especially wanted LGBTQ+ characters and writers. I chose the first pitching session when everyone was as fresh as they were going to be.  I was 5th in line in front of Alisha. I read my pitch. Alisha asked about me, about other projects I had in the wings, whether there is series potential (Answer: maybe, there’s a second book for sure). I told Alisha about Creative Colloquy and my writing group and readings and other community participation. 

Before we’d even finished our conversation, Alisha handed me a card with a special submission URL and asked for 50 pages. 

I’m under no illusions that there weren’t lots of writers who received similar invitations, however, since this was my top goal and my top choice agent, I count it as a win.  I’ve got an invitation, the next part is on me – finishing the manuscript, more editing, finding comps, writing a synopsis and query letter. Plenty of work to do and now I have the extra fuel of a warm place to land when it’s ready.  I told Alisha I was shooting for the first quarter of 2024. And the clock is ticking…

What happens when you combine ‘con drop’ with covid? 

Oh yeah, I got the ‘rona for the first time ever this past weekend. I think my con-drop might have contributed. I was happy and exhausted in the aftermath and an easy target. Did I catch it at the con? Maybe but I could just as easily have caught it at any of the other places I was in public that week. The good news is, I did not pass it on to anyone else in the family.  The bad news is, I’ve spent the last 7 days alone with the cats and my thoughts. At least I haven’t had to cook for myself very much – thank you to SarahC who ordered me a bounty via Instacart. And thank you to my sweetheart Mol for cheering me up and hanging out with me for long, long video calls. This introvert is ready for some people time.

As bad as being sick and isolated is, I’ve got an additional reason to be mad about – I missed an opportunity to participate in the Creative Colloquy Crawl. This is an annual event  held at multiple locations with multiple groupings of readers per location. I was going to be in the first group at The Union Club, reading from Elephant Ears. This would have been my first time participating in the event or even attending. I was looking forward to sharing and also seeing my writing community. Sigh. Next time….

Recent Reads

A Trans Man Walks Into a Gay Bar by Harry Nicholas – this memoir tells the story of the author’s transition not just with regard to gender identity and physical manifestation but also in respect to relationships. After deciding to follow his desire and come out as a gay man, he has what can only be described as his ‘ho days’. There’s a lot I could relate to in the way his transition impacted the relationship he was in at the time, and some of the funny-weird things that happen to our bodies and emotions during those second puberty days. Written with humor, self-reflection, and plenty of internal turmoil, I really enjoyed it. 

Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee – I enjoyed this story even though it lagged at times and I was super tired of the protagonist’s self-pity. This is YA romance, so don’t turn to the middle and expect to find the sex scene. It does have a pretty hefty twist and some very sweet scenes. And, of course, a happy ending.

Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen – This was enchanting. A contemporary ghost story with humor, danger, food porn, magical realism and romance. I felt swept along by the story and its delightfully quirky characters. The backstories are interesting and contribute to the feeling that fate had something to do with the reason they all ended up in the same place. Definitely recommend.

Community Announcements

I forgot to write a September newsletter and also to hold a writers chat on 9/26. The next one will be October 24. Let me know if you’d like an invite. This is an in person event I hold at Northwest Beerwerks in Olympia. Next dates are 

Tuesday October 24

One of my writing partners, Burl Battersby, has initiated an ambitious poetry project –  Voices of Tacoma: A Gathering of Poets. This project is partially funded by the Tacoma Artists Initiative Program. With community support, Burl has scheduled a series of workshops and other events to promote the project and gather the poets. The result will be an anthology of poetry about or influenced by Tacoma. For more information, see Burl’s website, for more information on upcoming events.

Christina Vega, publisher at Blue Cactus Press, has created a beautiful book of poetry, Vega, that I’m excited to read. Go to BlueCactusPress for more info on this and their other amazing books.

Creative Colloquy holds monthly readings at venues in Tacoma. Follow their Insta or Facebook page for news on those events and the upcoming release of Creative Colloquy Volume Nine – the annual anthology of fantastic South Sound writers and artists. CCV9 will be available on December 18.

That’s it for now. I need to get back to the novel – I’ve got a deadline!

Making Contact

Here’s where you can find me online:

  • – my blog
  • @CKCombs_author – Instagram and TikTok – and now Mastodon! (I’m hardly ever there, are you?)

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