Writing Conference Carousel

Hey, Gotham now has a rotating carousel of writers conferences—each a great ride if you’re hoping to publish a book. Each with a Day 1 of panels/presentations and a Day 2 of pitching roundtables with agents. You can attend either day or both. All on Zoom.

We take great pride in these conferences, featuring the best authors and agents out there.

Children’s Lit Conference
This one just happened on the weekend of May 20-21.

On Day 1, I had the privilege of interviewing Matt de la Peña, acclaimed author of YA novels and picture books, winner of the Newbery medal for his picture book Last Stop on Market Street.

We talked about the layers Matt brings to his books.

For one thing, all his books have a mix of darkness and hope. His YA book Ball Don’t Lie is about a teenager walking the mean streets of LA, bounced from one foster home to another, self-sabotaging his ambitions with shoplifting and robbery. And yet we see the kid’s good heart and root for him.

Matt told me:
    I want people to see the moments of grace and dignity on the quote-unquote wrong side of the tracks.

Matt’s picture book, Milo Imagines the World, is about a little boy riding the subway to visit his mother who’s in prison. We glimpse the layers of emotion in Milo here:

     Milo is a shook-up soda.
     Excitement stacked on top of worry
     on top of confusion
     on top of love.

Here Matt explains what the kid does on the subway ride:
    I have him drawing pictures of the people he sees on the subway, guessing where they’re going. But he’s also exploring the psychology of where he’s going. In all the pictures he does, you’ll see that something gets to go free or something is trapped. He doesn’t know that he’s doing this, but he’s exploring the psychology of incarceration and emancipation.

You can learn so much hearing great writers reveal their insights and secrets.

Genre Fiction Conference
August 12-13, 2023

This one’s coming this summer.

Our line-up for Day 1 is truly impressive. Four panels and presentations you won’t see anywhere else, capped by an interview with Ken Liu, the renowned science fiction & fantasy author, winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award.

Literary/Commercial Fiction Conference
November 18-19, 2023
Stay tuned for further info.

Nonfiction Conference
February 24-25, 2023                                                                                 
Stay tuned for further info.

From someone who just attended:
    This conference blew me away. Amazing and talented writers, agents, and staff at the top of their game. The honesty, intimacy, and heart expressed by the panelists was unusual and inspiring. The agents were generous, kind, and spot-on in their feedback.
                                                                                                                – Jules Donne

Alex Steele,


A Sense of Touch

My friend and I are planning a beach vacation together, and lately, our giddy-anticipation texts back and forth have been fixated on one thing: Getting sand in our sunscreen.
We’re stupidly excited about whether the sand will be the coarser kind that, when it mixes with your kefir-like SPF 50, magically transforms into a sugar-scrub exfoliant they sell at Lush for $30 a pop. Or maybe it’ll be that baking-powder like sand, and hey, remember that time we tried that sunscreen that allegedly didn’t come off on your clothes? It was the consistency of ranch dressing, and with that soft, powdery sand everywhere, applying it was like rubbing melting gummy worms to your forearms.
There’s nothing like touch, is there?
Writers tend to neglect the sense of touch in our stories, (and smell, too!), preferring the flashier, sometimes easier senses of sight, sound, and taste.
Our stories suffer for this oversight —and not only because we ignore a wealth of material.
Did you know your body has two separate systems for processing touch? Your discriminative touch system tells you whether that fluttery brush of dune grass grazed your knee or your thigh. It’s what tells you whether it tickled or whether it itched.
Your emotional touch system doesn’t care much about where or how, but who. When the touch comes from a loved one, or is unwelcome, or satiates your skin hunger, your emotional touch system sends an entirely different set of messages to your brain. It’s the system that makes touch essential in bonding one human to another.
When we do remember touch, we tend to go for one system or the other, the discriminative one, more often than not. But look what happens when you invoke both, as Yusef Komunyakaa does in these lines from “Lust:”
He longs to be
An orange, to feel fingernails
Run a seam through him.
Frequently we don’t get granular enough. We’ll describe something as “smooth,” and move on.
Observe: Take off your shoes and feel the floor beneath your feet right now. (Unless you’re on the subway!) Now change rooms, and do it again. Both floors may be smooth, or carpeted. But they’re not the same, right? The waxy finish of your parqueted living room is not the same kind of smooth as your unyielding, chilly kitchen tile.
With touch, be choosy with your details and words, and profligate in your brain networks. And remember, simile and metaphor are your friends:
I can’t read the River, can’t see my hand
when it plunges elbow-deep
               to feel the cool against
                            the Mississippi heat—
            hot as a dog’s mouth.                       

 –January Gill O’Neill, “The River Remembers:”

Your turn. Write about two best friends, barefoot and outdoors, and start the story with touch.

Kelly Caldwell,

Dean of Faculty


While watching an episode of Party Down, I was struck by an important concept for us writers. The series is about cater-waiters in LA, every episode showing them working a different party. They’re mostly actors waiting for their big breaks, which, of course, may never come.

In this episode (from the original series, not the recent revival), they show up to work a birthday party for the real-life movie star Steve Guttenberg, who’s rich but no longer relevant. However, there’s a mix-up, so he’s not having this party, but he invites the cater-waiters to party with him instead. When he discovers that one of them, Roman, is a screenwriter, he insists they do a reading of Roman’s latest script.

Roman—who only writes “hard” science fiction—fancies himself a visionary who will never sell out. But when they start reading his script, it becomes painfully clear that it’s awful. Here’s a sample:


Reading on deuterium levels.

BORP-7 (a bio-cybernetic organism)

Seven oh five point two, captain.


Your ship will never withstand the quantum flux between a binary star.


It will in a Godel spacetime field.

Everyone, including Roman, realizes the script is dead on arrival. Steve Guttenberg urges Roman to do a quick revision, which he does. The actors read the new version, which begins showing the heat of life.


Captain. I’m worried–


About our deuterium levels? Me too.


About you, sir.


Since when was worrying part of your programing? Coordinates set?


Thread a binary star? You’ll kill us all, DuKlark. Or is that what you want, since she died?


Maybe it is.

No, it’s still not a great script. But Roman has started making the characters act and sound like real people (even the bio-cybernetic one) rather than entities with no discernible emotions.  

Roman, who almost never smiles, shows the hint of a smile, pleased with himself.

Roman didn’t just revise the script. He re-envisioned it. He saw his story in a new light and breathed some actual life into it, which spurred the actors to really play something rather than rolling their eyes as they spoke their lines. 

Sometimes, that’s what it takes. Not a tweak. A makeover. Don’t be precious with your writing, especially if it’s not quite working. Crumple it up. Take a break. Then start over, with a new perspective. Maybe it won’t be improved. Maybe it’ll even be worse. And that’s okay, because this is always a process. But…chances are quite good that you’ll have pushed yourself onto the path of making it better. Maybe even as great as you once imagined.

Alex Steele,

Gotham President