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and editors, giving writers unprecedented access to top-tier publishing professionals — many of whom interact with unpublished authors only through conferences.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 Selina Libi Bjorlie, who came in search of feedback on her novel, Sunlight Playing Over a Mountain. Among her scheduled appointments was an Advance Reading with agent Elise Capron of Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.
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 Bjorlie’s was chosen by Capron. We trace Bjorlie’s SDSU Writers’ Conference experience, and where she is today on her journey to publication.
As you a writer by profession or is it an avocation?
After practicing as a doctor of optometry for many years, I decided to pursue my love of writing, so I went back to school and obtained an MFA degree in Creative Writing and I’ve been working on the craft ever since.
Tell us about Sunlight Playing Over a Mountain.
It’s a coming-of-age mainstream novel. A 15-year-old girl becomes entangled in a triangle of lies and deceit when her mother’s former lover re-enters their already unstable home, confounding her search for an identity that lies between two cultures.
How long have you been working on it?
Approximately six years or more, off and on.
Care to share the opening line or paragraph?
As a child I believed my mother and I came from the moon, ancient stones somehow misplaced in the world. For years, I dreamed of a new sky, clouds so delicate, so low, I’d catch them in a jar, like fireflies, and when released, Mother and I would join them. Tiny gems hovered above the dark sea.
Could you tell that Elise was pretty excited about your 10 pages or was it a complete surprise when you heard your name announced as an Editor’s Choice winner?
Ms. Capron mentioned something during the conference about an award, but I had no clue what she was talking about, since this was my first writers’ conference at SDSU. It was not a complete surprise, but I was excited either way.
Are you still heady with euphoria?
I’m very grateful for the award, but I know the manuscript needs revisions, so I’m very focused on the rewriting at this time.
Did she give you any suggestions on reworking the first 10 pages before sending her the complete manuscript?
Yes, she provided structural as well as editorial feedback, which was great.
What was her response to your complete manuscript?
She requested the first 50 pages.
How did you hear about the SDSU Writers’ Conference?
I researched several conferences and discovered this one on the Internet.
What do you think are the conference’s greatest strengths?
The SDSU conference provides a wonderful opportunity to meet face-to-face with agents and editors. The panels offer insight into the marketing and publishing world and it’s a great place to connect with other writers.
Had you been querying agents and trying to get representation prior to the conference? If so, what has the response been?
Prior to the conference, I had been querying agents. I had several nibbles, requests for the full manuscript. Approximately four months after the conference, I did have an agent take me on as a client.
Did you make a connection with a fellow writer or an editor or agent at one of the mixers or the networking lunch?
I made a few connections with fellow writers and we still keep in touch.
What’s the first book that spoke to you as a young reader?
The Nancy Drew series. I discovered through reading, the ability to transcend to a different world. Poetry also spoke to me as a young reader, the lyrical beauty of language and the powerful emotional response it can evoke.
Who’s your favorite author (or top three if it’s hard to choose one)?
A few of my favorite authors are Jhumpa Lahiri, Louise Erdrich, and poet Li -Young Lee.
What keeps you going in the pursuit of your writing goal?
A fellow writer/friend said, “Writing is an act of faith.”
Will we see you again at a future conference?
I hope so!
The 32nd Annual SDSU Writers’ Conference is Jan. 22-24, 2016 at the San Diego Marriott Mission Valley. Register now for three amazing days that could change your writing life.
For more information, visit neverstoplearning.net/writers, call (619) 594-0670 or email email@example.com.