By Robert L. Haught
With the umpire’s cry of “Play Ball!”, writers from 24 states unofficially opened the NSNC’s 41st annual conference with a play night. They came from coast to coast and border to border to gather in Manchester, NH, for a long weekend of fun, fellowship, and learning. Thursday offered a perfect evening for early arrivals to claim their reserved seats in the baseball stadium and greet old friends and make new ones (as Dave Astor’s daughter Maria and Suzette Martinez Standring’s granddaughter Lulu did. Yes, our conferences are family friendly). Here are some highlights of this year’s conclave:
Several of the speakers reminded us of the conference theme: “Live Free and Write, But Not For Free!” Steven Goldstein told us “there’s money in podcasting.” Friday night keynoter Amy Newmark, publisher of Chicken Soup for the Soul, invited submissions for pay at $200 a whack. And bookseller George Geers told us how to get our masterpieces on bookstore shelves for higher profits.
To expand our storehouse of knowledge and help sharpen our analytical prowess, we heard from Brian McGrory (Mary’s second cousin), editor-in-chief of The Boston Globe; a political panel of the Globe’s James Pindell, Jill Lawrence of USA Today, and Joe McQuaid of the Union Leader (moderated by Scott Spradling of ABC). KJ Dell’Antonia of The New York Times’ “Well Family” page and writer-photographer Derrick Jackson provided more food for thought.
On a lighter note, Gina Barreca, a devoted NSNC friend, kept the laughs rolling despite the rude appearance of an uninvited visitor, a gray mouse. She joined other authors in a Book Fair arranged by the NSNC and the New Hampshire Writers’ Project, open to the public.
John Clayton, a former columnist, now Manchester Historic Association director, welcomed us to the attractions (and one notable distraction) of the Millyard Museum. Legacy Award recipient Dave Lieber jokingly identified the stone-faced lady as his new partner.
Last year in Los Angeles, NSNC brought conference attendees together with Hollywood screenwriters. A highlight of this year’s program was an opportunity to talk one-on-one with a successful literary agent – a choice of five; a genuine coup for President Lisa Smith Molinari’s team. An NSNC-member panel of Dave Astor, Dorothy Rosby, and Jerry Zezima gave tips on how to boost our reach as bloggers and authors.
The highlight of highlights was the presentation of the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award, honoring New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.
Obviously a crowd favorite, she delivered a pungent series of zingers about President Trump but also landed a few punches at the news profession. She probably didn’t know NSNC gave its coveted Sitting Duck award to “Trump’s Tweets,” but she made liberal (naturally) references to his “wild tweetstorms.” Reversing the needle, she said, “We are addicted to Trump. He’s the Selfie President and we’re the selfie stick. Trump is Narcissus, always looking for his own reflection, and the press is the mirror.”
Like many honorees before her, our featured guest joined conference attendees in the hospitality suite and seemed in no hurry to leave. And with good reason. This was one of the most impressive post-session networking venues I have seen as a veteran conference-goer. It had by far the largest selection of alcoholic beverages, from beer and top label wines to the finest liqueurs. (Conference host Mike Morin said he raided his liquor cabinet.) And, of course, some special popcorn and other snacks.
Robert L. Haught is a former NSNC officer and board member who developed the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award program and has served as coordinator since its establishment in 1999.