Take a look at the photo below. Looks like a nice group of women, friends gathered for dinner, maybe a ladies' night out, right?
Yes, it's all that, but more. This photo, my friends, represents a powerhouse, before your very eyes.
Last weekend, I met a group of women's fiction writers at a retreat near Mt. Hood, Oregon, organized by Kristina McMorris, who is a powerhouse in one woman alone. (This photo was taken Saturday evening by our gracious server at the Timberline Lodge, the eerily perfect location where The Shining's outdoor scenes were filmed. One of us--Sarah McCoy--was missing from the shot, unfortunately, due to an earlier departure than the rest!)
Mostly, we hung out--working some, writing some, hiking some, eating a LOT. But the best part of the weekend for me was the conversation. As a writer about to be published, it was educational and enlightening to spend three concentrated days with a group of women who have mostly already been down that road. And honestly, it was refreshing for the mystique to be slightly removed from this species as I realized how much we published and "pre-published" writers are still alike in our fears and insecurities, our dreams and goals.
It was also overwhelming. But not because of these women, who were gracious and friendly and down-to-earth and made me feel like one of them the minute we finally all convened in one place at Trader Joe's to purchase supplies before we went up the mountain. (Read: wine and chocolate.)
No, it wasn't them. It was when, at several points during the weekend, I turned to new friends and said, "Isn't it overwhelming sometimes to realize how many amazing novels are out there just waiting to be published and/or read?"
We all agreed that while the Internet is an amazing tool, has opened doors wide for writers to market their books and network with readers and other writers, it can also be a cause for panic in that moment when you begin to comprehend JUST HOW MANY novels are sent into the world each and every month, to find their way into the hands of the right readers, to swim or maybe to sink--oftentimes due not to the quality of their content, but to a little bit of luck or circumstances.
It wasn't the first time I've encountered this feeling. But it was only driven home as I sat and marveled at the sheer amount of talent in this small group of nine. This powerhouse of nine.
There was Kristina McMorris, the generous hostess who organized us and contributed more to this weekend than I'd ever be able to address in a simple blog post. Kris has already published one award-winning novel, Letters from Home (which Kim featured in an interview on www earlier this year), and she has a new one waiting in the wings, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves.
Erika Robuck's second novel Hemingway's Girl comes out in 2012, and she astounded us as she talked about the research that goes into her work. (Joan interviewed her here!).
The veteran author of the weekend, Marilyn Brant, will release her third novel, A Summer in Europe, in December, and it traveled home in my suitcase as an ARC I'm already enjoying, alongside a pair of "ugly socks." (She wanted to be sure we all had this one item critical for a writing retreat!) She pairs love stories with her love of travel and all things Jane Austen.
Therese Walsh and Jael McHenry share an amazing agent with me in Elisabeth Weed. Their debut novels, The Last Will of Moira Leahy and The Kitchen Daughter, both with elements of magical realism, were published to great anticipation in the last few years, and both are already hard at work on their next stories.
Sarah McCoy is a tiny girl with a huge heart, and she sent us all home with dried Hatch Chiles. She's already published The Time it Snowed in Puerto Rico, full of setting details from her own childhood, and her next novel, The Baker's Daughter, comes out soon and is already creating quite the buzz!
Then there was Margaret Dilloway. She might be Japanese American and nearly a decade younger, but I'm pretty sure we are twin daughters from another mother. From the moment we discovered we had the same camera as we hiked along a trail together, stopping every 30 seconds to capture another detail, until we had to say goodbye, I can't count how many times we smiled and shook our heads when one or the other of us revealed another personality quirk or life experience in common. I truly believe I'll waste away before I get to read her multicultural debut novel, How to Be An American Housewife, and close on its heels, The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, a family drama due out next spring.
And last, but not least, I met Sarah Callender, not yet published, but agented and revising. Down in my bones, I feel sure her fascinating story will be featured in Publisher's Marketplace sometime in the very near future. In the meantime, she entertains readers with her hilarious blog posts at Inside Out Underpants. She and Margaret and I bunked in the same condo and we're already scheming our next escape from real life.
If that much talent could be gathered in one spot, how much more must there be in the world? It makes me a little nervous for my fledgling novel, Calling Me Home. But not so nervous I'd trade the experiences I've had meeting and getting to know so many marvelously talented writers since I started this journey.
Check out some of these writers who might be new to you. I added a few to my own list this weekend! But how will I ever read all these books?! So many books, so little time ...