Muse and the Marketplace 2016

Muse and the Marketplace happened a little over 2 months. To write about an impactful event sometimes you need a bit of distance for accurate reflection. Sometimes you need quotes from attendees, sometimes life gets busy and sometimes it’s all three. In the spirit of “better late than never” here is my wrap-up of the amazing weekend that was Muse and the Marketplace 2016 which celebrated its 15th year!

The Writers of Color Roundtable session was memorable for many reasons, not the least of which was the incredible line-up. (pictured are Kaitlyn Greenidge and Mira Jacob). Also on the panel: Jennifer De Leon, Celeste Ng, Regina Brooks, Alexander Chee and Emi Ikkanda.

This was a large panel with a 2 hour duration. I asked Mira Jacob what the highlight of the panel was for her.

“Taste and self- interrogation. Meaning: when editors (who are 89% white
according the Lee & Low) defend their choice in manuscripts by saying they have to go with what they find interesting, they should also be asking themselves, why do I find this interesting? Does it represent me and people like me? Is it a well tread and bankable kind of interesting? Because here’s the reality: there are less well tread but just as bankable stories out there. I know because I know all the people waiting for them. We’ve been waiting for a long time. And until we can get more editorial diversity up in those houses (an equally pressing problem), we need editors who are willing to think outside of their own experience and develop the necessary empathy for worlds unfamiliar to them.”

I also asked Mira about the  trip back to New York. From the photo posted of Mira, Alexander Chee and Kaitlyn Greenidge it looked like  quite the road trip and I was curious about the conversation. This wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but here’s what Mira shared:

“I mean, I can’t give up anything that went on in that ride (writers code) but I will tell you that some very close attention was paid to Rhianna lyrics and “this whiskey got me feeling pretty” was thoroughly appreciated for its understated glory. It has also become my go-to seduction line, much to my husband’s amusement.”



When asked what her highlight of the weekend was, Georgia author, Dawn Tripp replied,  “Co-leading a session on Transforming Real Life Stories into Fiction with Michelle Hoover, author of Bottomland, and exploring how a fictional interpretation can arrive at a different kind of truth, a more experiential truth, that allows us to enter a character and be transformed.” I also asked Dawn which book she was most looking forward to reading this summer. ” I cannot wait for Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon.”

Beloved conference presenter, Roxanna Robinson’s Muse highlight:

“Actually, I loved coming into the hotel lobby and seeing the cafe full of writers, all leaning forward intently, talking and listening, and feeling as though this was the heartbeat of the book culture.

The Right to Write: Who owns the story” is one I am sorry that I missed. This topic fascinates me and it seems like it can be a tough line to walk. Can you give me a few of the highlights?

I chose that subject because it was one that was an issue for me, since I wrote about a Marine lieutenant coming home from Iraq. The military is famously proprietary about its experience, so I thought a lot about whether or not I had the right to write about it. I wrote an essay about it for the New York Times, called The Right to Write,  which addressed these questions. I read the essay and then asked questions of the audience about their feelings. I asked if anyone in the room had been written about, and what that felt like. We talked about the power the writer has, and how to use it. So we talked about the issue from both sides – whether I have the right to tell the story of a fictitious Marine, and whether I have the right to tell the story of my mother, or put her in my story. These are moral issues that writers need to consider – we all use other people’s stories, so how do we decide what’s fair and what’s right, and what’s our moral obligation?”

This from attendee Julie Gerstenblatt:

“This was my first Muse conference, and I really felt inspired by it. I went to so many great workshops, but one that stands out is called “Secrets and Lies” taught by Lynn Barrett. It was one of those practical craft workshops (“Oh, I can do that!”) that also makes you think (“Huh, I never looked at the Cinderella plot that way before.”) Love that combo. In fact, I picked up a technique in that Sunday session that I used on Monday while working on my new novel. The chapter is much better for it. I could tell you what it is, but then I’d have to kill you.

Also, I attended two exceptional workshops led by Ann Hood. I believe the second one – “How to Write A Kick-Ass Essay” – might have changed my life. Not. Exaggerating.

I think the thing that what touched me the most, though, was how nice and supportive and open and welcoming everyone was. Encouragement was everywhere and I was sad to leave it behind. But in my red folder and spiral notebook, I have more than enough to sustain me for the next year of writing.”

Because it was the 15th year of the Muse, they ended the conference with cakes on each table and they dimmed the lights and everyone lit a candle and made a wish for the next year. It was – using your word, Robin – magical.”



Robins unite! Robin Black (Crash Course: Essays from Where Life and Writing Collide) and I caught up after her she spoke to a packed room to talk about Writers of a Certain Age: A Survivor’s Guide To Starting “Late” 

” I loved how many people came to that session, not only because it makes me feel like I’m teaching things people want to hear, but also because as I said there, I find it incredibly moving how many people decide later in life that their stories, whether fictional or shaped into memoir are worth hearing.

 I think the highlight of the weekend has to have been that lunch we shared in the hotel lobby bar, where it seemed like just one friend after another turned up. I loved that. And the conversation drifted from what was happening there, at Muse, to politics, to editors we have known, to readings we have been to. It was fabulous.”



Returning attendee, Leah DeCesare, is a cheerful volunteer whose first novel will be published in April 2017!

“The Muse is a little piece of heaven for writers. The sessions on topics like crafting, publishing, publicity are engaging and the whole weekend is an opportunity to connect with aspiring to accomplished authors.

There is nothing like getting tips and hearing personal stories directly from authors I admire.

Every year, I meet new friends and reconnect with people I’ve met at past Muse events. It’s a premier networking event for writers.

No where else can an emerging writer have face to face conversations with agents, editors, publicists, and bestselling authors all in three short days. Not to mention have a whole lot of fun and learning an incredible amount.  left the weekend feeling energized, motivated and incredibly encouraged.”


Enjoying the cocktail hour after a fun-filled day.(with authors: Louise Miller and Michelle Hoover)


Novel Incubator alum, Louise Miller, talked to me about the what it was like to attend this year’s Muse and the Marketplace with The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living due to hit the shelves on August 9th.

“Novel Incubator is a year-long revision workshop for novelists with a completed draft. During the program, the class (made of 10 writers and author/instructor Michelle Hoover) read and critique your novel in its entirety twice, as well as critique and additional 150 pages of scenes. On top of that, we study the craft of writing, and towards the end we received assistance with the business end of things–writing and critiquing query letters and synopses of our books, drafting elevator pitches, and having the opportunity to talk to agents and editors. It was an absolutely incredible program. It took me 3 years to write the first draft of The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living. During my Incubator year I revised the novel almost 4 times. I learned to work hard, I learned to pinpoint issues in my manuscript by both giving and receiving feedback, and I met lifelong readers and friends.

It was an incredible experience to attend this year- the first time as a presenter. It really hit home how far I had come since my first Muse (back in 2010.) Grub Street has been a part of almost every step of my writing career. I could not be more grateful that they are here in Boston, making a writing education accessible to everyone.”

I sat in on Louise and Katie Racculia’s session- Feedback is a Conversation which I thoroughly enjoyed.I think the two of them have the beginnings of a fabulous literary podcast. Their top 3 tips on feedback encapsulated much of the weekend for me.

     “Stay open…Listen to the questions underneath the questions…and Learn to recognize when feedback is helpful( and when it isn’t.)”


” I loved hearing from Colum McCann, especially the piece entitled “Don’t Be a Dick,” said so emphatically with his Irish brogue”, said Julie Gerstenblatt a first time attendee. I, too, was quite taken with McCann and the talk he delivered at the Keynote Tea Saturday afternoon. So much so that I asked him to inscribe my book with the quote. (note the grin above) He couldn’t quite bring himself to do it though humored me by jotting it down on the sticky which of course will remain in this beloved copy of TransAtlantic.


Grub Gone…Drag’s Martha Graham Cracker was the perfect way to end the day and we were all entertained from the the moment she stepped on stage and dazzled as she handled that narrow curved staircase in those incredible heals. Brava!


I kept trying to catch up with author and presenter, Ethan Gilsdorf, but he was just too quick running around the halls. Luckily, I was able to send him a few questions and get his take on the weekend.

“As always, the Muse and Marketplace is an energizing, inspiring, and social weekend.

I wear several hats: session leader and moderator, GrubStreet board member, and instructor (or former instructor) for many of the attendees I see as we rush back and forth among the seminar rooms, hallways and elevator and grand ballroom.

This year at the Muse and Marketplace, I taught one session called “Non-Fiction Career Building: From Article to Book and Back Again” that looked at how nonfiction writers can publish articles, essays and book ideas, and how these all can feed each other. I also moderated a panel of two agents and two editors called “Non-Fiction Idea Clinic,” where attendees pitched their book ideas and we all responded with robust and honest feedback.

I attended a terrific keynote address by Colum McCann whose litany of advice included “Don’t write what you know. Write towards what you want to know. Write towards what you don’t know.” (And I didn’t know he had lived in Boston and the Cape when he first arrived from Ireland).

The Muse is always a great place to reconnect with my agent, who’s become a good friend over the years.

I went to a few parties, and schmoozed with many of my old friends, and got to know a few new faces.

Most of all, I love reconnecting with my writing community, and seeing the dedication of my former students still at it, making progress, writing, networking, getting out there.”

And no discussion of Muse and the Marketplace would be complete without words from my dear friend, Jenna Blum.

“#Muse2016 was only the 2nd Muse I’ve missed in 15 years, and the only reason is I’m in writing lockdown working on my 3rd book. The Muse is like the hats in Dr. Seuss’s Bartholomew Cubbins & the 500 Hats: it gets more spectacular every year. I can’t wait for #Muse17 so I can reconnect with beloved writers, agents & editors–I’ll be there with a plumed hat on.” ~ Jenna Blum, NYT & international bestseller of Those Who Save Us, The Stormchasers and “The Lucky One” in Grand Central; 19-year Grub instructor

Here’s to 2017!

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