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and editors, giving writers unprecedented access to top-tier publishing professionals — many of whom interact with unpublished authors only through conferences.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 Carla Kerper (pen name Carla Pierce) who came in search of feedback on her novel, Playing the Split. Among her scheduled appointments was an Advance Reading with Stacy Creamer, vice president and executive editor with Hachette Book Group.
Advance Reading appointments require submitting the first 10 pages of your manuscript to be read prior to the conference. Attendees also have the option of scheduling a Consultation appointment, which is a Q&A opportunity to pitch your 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 Kerper’s was chosen by Creamer. We trace Kerper’s SDSU Writers’ Conference experience, and where she is today on her journey to publication.
Are you a writer by profession or is it an avocation?
Writing is a hobby for me, but I treat it like a job and try to write every day, early in the morning.
Tell us about your novel.
Playing the Split is a coming-of-age story/dysfunctional family saga about a young woman who gets in way over her head with her on-the-lam fiancé and his sexy parolee brother. As her wedding day approaches, and as events spiral out of control, she finds herself literally caught in the crossfire.
How long have you been working on it?
A long, long time! I’m glad to be working on a new novel that features some of the same gritty characters.
Care to share the opening line or paragraph?
The air in our apartment was warm and thick with the usual smells: frozen burrito wrappers in the trash can, dirty socks, the sharp note of an open beer, two-day-old pot smoke hanging around like the perfume of someone long gone.
Could you tell that Stacy was pretty excited about your 10 pages or was it a complete surprise when you heard your name announced as a Conference Choice winner?
She seemed very excited about it! She said she “loved it” and “laughed on the plane” while reading it. But it was definitely a complete surprise when I heard my name announced!
Are you still heady with euphoria?
Yes, it was a wonderful honor.
Did she give you any suggestions on reworking the first 10 pages before sending her the complete manuscript?
No, she didn’t have any suggestions. She just said she’d love to read the full manuscript.
What was her response to your complete manuscript?
Actually, she has it right now and I’m awaiting word!
How did you hear about the SDSU Writers’ Conference?
From other writers.
Was 2015 your first time at the conference or have you attended before?
I attended last year’s (2014) conference and got hooked!
What do you think is one of the greatest strengths of the conference?
There are so many! Meeting and networking with other writers, getting query letter advice, receiving incredible feedback from agents and editors, and attending the informative panels, to name a few.
Did you take advantage of the conference’s On-the-Spot Query Letter Critique session on Friday? If so, did you get constructive feedback?
I attended literary agent Angela Rinaldi’s On-the-Spot Query Letter Critique session and received helpful, personal feedback on my query. Ms. Rinaldi gave an agent’s-eye-view of what works and what doesn’t in a query, using letters submitted to her by the audience. It was brutal, but fun. This session was one of the conference highlights.
Did you make a connection with a fellow writer or an editor or agent at one of the mixers or the networking lunch?
I’m too shy to actually “approach” editors and agents at mixers, but I did have a wonderful time talking with other writers.
What’s the first book that spoke to you as a young reader?
I read the entire Nancy Drew series, starting with The Secret of the Old Clock. After I’d read the last book in the series, including the Nancy Drew Cookbook, I started reading Agatha Christie’s mysteries. Then the Perry Mason series. Then Sherlock Holmes. And then P.D. James, Colin Dexter, Sue Grafton, and so on. Each one of these authors had a huge impact on me. But that first book definitely lit the fire.
Who’s your favorite author (or top three if it’s hard to choose one)?
Suspense: Lee Child; literary: J.M. Coetzee; mystery: Sue Grafton.
What keeps you going in the pursuit of your writing goal?
Being in a weekly read-and-critique group (through San Diego Writers Ink), and taking writing (and criminal justice!) classes locally. Since many of my characters are either cops or criminals, I take courses to learn the laws and lingo, and also because the subject is interesting to me. I also volunteer at a prison, with a fantastic local program called Reading Legacies, which helps incarcerated parents read books to their children.
Will we see you again at a future conference?
One hundred percent chance of that!
Anything you’d like to add?
The SDSU Writers’ Conference staff, and the agents, editors, and speakers/panelists, are totally dedicated to helping writers of every genre achieve their goals. An excellent experience!