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and editors, giving writers unprecedented access to top-tier publishing professionals — many of whom interact with unpublished authors only through conferences.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 Maddie Rue Burke, who came in search of feedback on her post-apocalyptic novel, Dark in Nature. Among her scheduled appointments was an Advance Reading with Sheila Gilbert, executive editor/co-publisher of DAW Books.
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 Burke’s was chosen by Gilbert. We trace Burke’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 something I have done as a hobby since age 13. I devoted myself to the craft a few years ago.
What’s your novel about?
Dark in Nature is a post-apocalyptic about a young scavenger in a destroyed world, seeking freedom from a pirate captain, only to discover she’s bound to him by more than just a tracking device.
How long have you been working on it?
On and off for a year.
Care to share the opening line (or paragraph)?
Never missed sunshine, not a single day of it, but I missed home. Five hundred land miles away from there, I searched the Playa Fluff ‘n Fold for supplies among rotted seashells and sand-buried bones. My boots sank into rubble mounds, heels grinding over the remains of people who’d once lived in Los Angeles. Tried not to gag, and shook out my hair, certain their dried flesh and tissue flakes had embedded themselves in my strands.
Could you tell that Sheila 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 received the award before I had a chance to speak with Sheila, so it was a wonderful surprise. I had my session with her following that moment.
Are you still heady with euphoria?
I am. It is always reassuring to get a positive reaction, especially from someone well-respected in the industry. It helps to have that acknowledgement when those voices of doubt try to take over.
Did she give you any suggestions on reworking the first 10 pages?
Sheila was interested in discussing what happens after the first 10 pages. It was great. I felt very much at ease delving into the plot with her.
Did Sheila ask to see your complete manuscript?
Yes. I’m finishing up revisions now, and will be sending it to Ms. Gilbert soon.
How did you hear about the SDSU Writers’ Conference?
I found out about the conference browsing online for writing events in the Southern California area.
Was 2015 your first time at the conference or have you attended before?
What do you think is one of the greatest strengths of the conference?
Supportive atmosphere and quality workshops.
Had you been querying agents and trying to get representation prior to the conference? If so, what has the response been?
I was querying, but not with this project. I have received helpful and honest feedback over the past year from agents.
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 did attend. I rewrote my query letter that weekend. Something definitely clicked after the session.
Did you make a connection with a fellow writer or an editor or agent at one of the mixers or the networking lunch?
I met up with a writing friend I knew via email. We had a great time chatting about our writing projects. I was also at a table with (author) Gini Koch. She was incredibly generous with sharing her knowledge and giving words of advice.
What’s the first book that spoke to you as a young reader?
I was slow to start reading until I discovered comics at the local library, but the first book that spoke to me was Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams. It sealed my love for adventure and fantasy stories.
Who’s your favorite author (or top three if it’s hard to choose one)?
What keeps you going in the pursuit of your writing goal?
I have an unshakable dream to become a published writer. In some ways, failure keeps me going. I want to try harder after one project doesn’t work out and come up with something better.