The SDSU Writers’ Conference has a long history of launching careers by opening doors. This annual conference was among the first to pioneer 1:1 appointments with agents and editors, giving writers unprecedented access to top-tier publishing professionals — many of whom interact with unpublished authors only through conferences.
Among the more than 300 writing enthusiasts/aspiring authors who descended upon the 2015 SDSU Writers’ Conference was Cari Butorac Dowling, a research assistant/lab manager for a molecular neurobiology lab at a local research institute. With a goal of getting feedback on her New Adult paranormal novel, Conduit, Dowling scheduled an Advance Reading Appointment with Michelle Klayman, president/CEO of Boroughs Publishing Group.
Advance Reading Appointments require submitting the first 10 pages of your manuscript to be read in advance. Attendees also have the option of scheduling a Consultation Appointment, which is a Q&A opportunity to pitch the project as a whole and discuss its viability in the marketplace.
Every year, each editor and agent chooses their favorite project(s) for a Conference Choice Award, and Dowling’s was chosen by Klayman. We trace Dowling’s SDSU Writers’ Conference experience, and where she is today on her journey to publication.
What is Conduit about?
Two things happen to Liv Hartley the day she turns eighteen: Freshman orientation and a tattoo. College she’s got covered. After all, she was a senior when she died the first time. The tattoo, that’s something new.
She’ll soon discover there are consequences to having the coveted infinity symbol marking her as a Conduit, a reincarnated messenger of the Otherworld. Reaping souls, dodging a possessive demon, and straightening out her love life are the least of her worries.
There’s only one thing Liv knows for sure, life isn’t any easier after death.
How long have you been working on it?
From concept to pitching quality, about three years.
Care to share the opening lines?
I’d love to!
I spent the night I died at the Tau Kappa end of semester blowout, downing spiked punch and making out with Billy Curtis.
Okay. Not really. But I should’ve at least had the guts to try. Maybe then I’d be waking up an ex-virgin with a hangover, next to the boy I’ve had a crush on since high school. I’d rather have that regret.
Could you tell that Michelle was pretty excited about your 10 pages or was it a complete surprise when you heard your name announced as a Conference Choice winner?
I could tell. She was gushing about it before I could sit across from her during our session. But I didn’t know she’d nominate me for the award. I wasn’t sure what else she was pitched, and she could’ve loved something else more.
Are you still heady with euphoria?
It was a surreal experience. I had a perma-grin for days. I still smile when I think about it.
Did she give you any suggestions on reworking the first 10 pages before sending her the complete manuscript?
No. In fact, she encouraged me to send her the complete manuscript, ASAP.
What was her response to your complete manuscript?
She offered me a contract with Boroughs Publishing Group within two weeks of me sending it to her. Even though I ended up going with another publisher, I can’t say enough nice things about Michelle and how much she believed in my work.
How did you hear about the SDSU Writers’ Conference?
Ironically, through a writing friend of mine who lives in Michigan. I live in San Diego and didn’t know about it!
Was 2015 your first time at the conference or have you attended before?
My first time.
What do you think is one of the greatest strengths of the conference?
How accessible everyone is; from the speakers, to the organizers, to other attendees. Everyone is approachable. Everyone is there to support the craft of writing, and writers.
Had you been querying agents and trying to get representation prior to the conference? If so, what has the response been?
I have, for about a year now. I’d had a request for a full manuscript from both an agent and an editor with a publishing house. Both ultimately passed, but gave me valuable feedback which helped make the manuscript what it is today. I also had several straight-up rejections.
Did you make a connection with a fellow writer or an editor or agent at one of the mixers or the networking lunch?
Funny story. The world is so small that I met the agent of one of my critique partners, and we all live in different states. We were at the same table, just talking about things she had coming out, and she mentioned a book she’d just sold. And I knew right away that it was my friend’s book. And it’s amazing, so I’m not surprised she sold it!
What’s the first book that spoke to you as a young reader?
Oddly enough, I didn’t like to read when I was young. I mean, I HAD to for school, but reading for pleasure was beyond me. I wrote a lot, including short stories, poems, and music. But reading seemed like such a chore.
I do remember borrowing The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny and Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice from a friend who was an avid book reader. She did me right. From then on out, fantasy has been my thing.
Who’s your favorite author (or top three if it’s hard to choose one)?
Is it cliché to say JK Rowling? Meh, don’t care. Saying it anyway. She got me excited about reading in a way I didn’t realize was possible, and I was an adult by the time I read her series. And I’m pretty sure no one is arguing her genius in creating unforgettable characters and a world I’d ditch this one for in a heartbeat.
What keeps you going in the pursuit of your writing goal?
Passion and love for the craft. Oh, and the desire to create something that speaks to the human condition, and soul. We all want to touch someone with what we do, in some way.
Will we see you again at a future conference?
My book, Conduit, will be released in spring 2016 through Reuts Publishing (reuts.com) under my pen name, C.C. Dowling. Please check it out!