WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Plotting Greatness

By on June 28, 2016

Struggling to belong at the JH Writers Conference.

Participants of the 2016 JH Writers Conference read excerpts from their creations.  (Photo: Andrew Munz)

Participants of the 2016 JH Writers Conference read excerpts from their creations.  (Photo: Andrew Munz)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The first time I attended the Jackson Hole Writers Conference, I was a 21-year-old aspiring scribe convinced that my book idea was going to make me famous. The conference was my first real kick in the ass. I was nowhere near being the author I wanted to be. As the years progressed, I kept coming back to prove my worth to myself as well as my mentors.

One of those mentors was writer and indie-record-label queen, Tiffanie DeBartolo, author of God-Shaped Hole and How to Kill a Rock Star. We initially bonded at my first conference over our affection for the band Mogwai, and became better friends through the years. I like to think that I was getting cooler just by hanging around her and her husband, Scott Schumaker. And if that pattern proved accurate, this year would be my absolute coolest year, and I knew I needed to act as such.

The JH Writers Conference is a godsend for Rocky Mountain writers, a grade-A gathering of people who can actually make your writing dreams come true on the spot.

This year, I was not able to attend the full conference, but asked organizer Tim Sandlin if I would be able to crash the cocktail party, the first schmooze event of the conference. Tim, gracious as ever, agreed and I headed on over after my shift at Valley Bookstore. I stole a blank nametag from the registration table and wrote:

Andrew Munz. Writer.

Faculty members had “writer” printed on their nametags, so there was a slight part of me that wanted to be included in that gaggle of privileged authors. Tim had mentioned that I’m just one book deal away from being on the faculty, but I figured it wouldn’t be terrible if these publishing folks thought I was a big deal.

I mingled in the Center lobby with Tiffanie and Scott, meeting new writers, rubbing elbows with the bigwigs, and ultimately hoping other people thought we were the bees knees.

I sipped my beer and listened to a myriad of book ideas: an experimental autobiographical novel set in Georgia; a survivor’s tale of the Chernobyl incident; a mystery novel starring an allergic detective; a book of poetry inspired by Judaism, and the list goes on.

Tiffanie and I made a reservation for four at The Kitchen hoping we’d snag one other really cool person to join us for dinner. When the time came to head over to get our table, we still had no one.

“I mean, I have prospects but nothing solid,” Tiffanie said. “You pick.”

“Me?” I asked looking around.

My agent asked me to meet an editor at the conference, a woman named Kat Brzozowski, so I walked over to see if she would be interested in joining us.

“Who’s going?” Kat asked, as if she was inquiring about a high school party possibly worth attending.

“Uh. Just me and Tiffanie DeBartolo? She’s on the faculty…”

“Oh. Can other people come?”

“Sure!”

And then word spread: Andrew Munz was hosting a faculty dinner at The Kitchen.

In total we were three published authors, two big-name literary agents, an editor, and two aspiring authors. I felt like I had somehow broken into an exclusive club, far from the awkward 21-year-old I once was. Thanks to that little dinner, one of the authors took the liberty to pitch my non-fiction book idea to the executive editor at HarperCollins. When we were introduced, I was bumbling and weird, my nametag doing nothing to stop my coolness from retreating like Arctic sea ice.

The conference ended at a round table in the White Buffalo Club. I sat across from the HarperCollins editor as well as Kat, and informed them about tourists in Yellowstone. And that’s when I started to realize that I wasn’t too different.

Was I getting too close to the buffalo with these editors?

Somehow, by the end of the night, I emerged unscathed. I didn’t make a fool of myself, and actually illuminated more of the path on my road to becoming a writer. Tiffanie and I agreed to form an official faculty party for next year. Hopefully then I’ll have not just a book deal, but a printed nametag. PJH

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