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and editors, giving writers unprecedented access to top-tier publishing professionals — many of whom interact with unpublished authors only through conferences.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 marketing executive David Larson, who came in search of feedback on his biography, The Last Jewish Gangster. Among his scheduled appointments was an Advance Reading with Stacy Creamer, vice president and executive editor of Hachette 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 Larson’s was chosen by Creamer. We trace Larson’s SDSU Writers’ Conference experience, and where he is today on his journey to publication.
As you a writer by profession or is it an avocation?
A profession now (the last two years).
Tell us about your project.
The Last Jewish Gangster is a biography that follows the life of Michael J. Hardy, a chubby Jewish boy from Brooklyn, who wants nothing more than to prove to his “Queen of NYC crime” mother that he deserves her love and is tougher than the famous gangsters she dates (Bugsy Siegel is Michael’s godfather). Without a father, and rejected by his mother at birth, Michael becomes a fearless and lawless gangster over the next five decades. When he finally reaches his goal, his mother is on her death bed, he’s been shot 11 times, robbed hundreds of people, spent 27 years in prisons and jails, committed multiple kidnappings, and killed 15 times. Now he struggles with forgiveness, within himself, those he harmed, and those who harmed him.
How long have you been working on it?
Care to share the opening line or paragraph?
NUMBERS. Sometimes that’s all I see. There are 17 links in the leg irons Los Angeles County Sheriffs use to transport prisoners. I should know. It’s 26 miles from Wayside Super Max to the Van Nuys Court. I’ve traveled that road a dozen times. And, I’ve learned that the 3 worst things which can come at you in life, except a crazy wife with a loaded gun, are: 1) The United States Army vs. Michael J. Hardy; 2) The United States of America vs. Michael J. Hardy; and, 3) The State of California vs. Michael J. Hardy for murder in the first degree.
Could you tell 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 loved the voice, wanted to know if it was fiction (which it’s not), and if I had more. I handed her a proof copy of my 540-page book. She had a LOT of excitement, but I was still surprised when my name was announced.
What was her response to your complete manuscript?
Stacey LOVED it as is. The voice is what caught her by surprise — finally a reader able to get inside the head of a fearless gangster. However, she couldn’t sell it internally; Hachett’s taking a break from any other mob-related books at the time. She wished me the best.
How did you hear about the SDSU Writers’ Conference?
From one of the writers in my read & critique group.
Was 2015 your first time at the conference or have you attended before?
First time. I have attended the Southern California Writers’ Conference a few times, but not for five years.
What do you think is one of the greatest strengths of the conference?
Connecting writers with industry professionals.
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 received some great feedback.
Did you make a connection with a fellow writer or an editor or agent at one of the mixers or the networking lunch?
Yes … quite a few, in fact. I signed up with Chip MacGregor’s agency [conference keynote speaker and president of MacGregor Literary Inc.]. He’s a HUGE believer in me and the book.
What’s the first book that spoke to you as a young reader?
The Lord of the Rings.
Who’s your favorite author (or top three if it’s hard to choose one)?
I love the classics … Steinbeck, Hemingway, Melville.
What keeps you going in the pursuit of your writing goal?
Being inspired by the voices of my characters.
What’s the current status of your manuscript?
A medium-size house wants to look at in January to see if they’ll put it on their slate for next year. The reason no one has “bit” yet, has more to do with its perceived genre (true crime) than anything else. To a person, they all love the writing and the “unique visual voice.” I heard more than once that, “The market for gangster and mobster books hasn’t done well in several years.”
So, I’m repackaging it with a new title — as a memoir.
Separately, I’m in final talks with a Hollywood director/writer/producer to option the book and turn it into a TV series, and I’ll be working with him to write the pilot episode.
Will we see you again at a future conference?
I’m pretty sure.