Speed Dating with Editors, by Brittany Terwilliger

My inclination is to hide out at large gatherings of people. I like the idea of writing conferences, but inevitably I get there and feel like an alien and a fraud, and participate in the quietest way possible. So, at Conversations and Connections, while standing in the long line for lunchtime speed dating—a completely voluntary activity—I wondered whether I should bolt. I remembered too well a bad experience I’d had with literary speed dating at a different conference, where I sat for 10 excruciating minutes with a prestigious New York agent who was clearly exhausted and didn’t feel like talking to me. I didn’t have to go through that again, I could high-tail it to Au Bon Pain and no one would know the difference. But, I’d paid good money to be here, and I’d gotten up extra early that morning and traipsed down to the hotel business center to print the short story I wanted to pitch. So I waited.

The line took about 15 minutes. I checked my email, scrolled through Twitter on my phone. At the front, people were talking to each other, and I had a brief discussion with two guys about something funny I don’t remember. Dave Housley from Barrelhouse jogged over to ask us what we were pitching so he could match us with the right editors. He recognized me from a workshop and said “I’m setting you up with Nate.”

The doors opened and I walked to Nate’s table, and discovered that “Nate” was Nate Brown, the Managing Editor of American Short Fiction. Their most recent issue had featured a story by Rebecca Makkai, so, you know, nothing to be nervous about here. But, in fact, I found that I was not nervous. I had about half a second to wonder what I should say, before Nate jumped in with introductions. He had done this before, he knew the ropes. I answered some questions about my background, then we got into the story I’d brought. He read the first couple pages and I waited, noticing the magazine and bowl of candy that someone had kindly put on the table. Someone had organized this whole experience to be as welcoming and unawkward as possible. Even sitting silently watching this stranger review my work, I had something to snack on, something to read.

After a couple minutes, Nate resurfaced and we talked about my story. He explained some notes he’d made in the margins. His feedback was smart and thoughtful, and just a godsend, honestly. Almost never do writers get this kind of one-on-one insight into the thoughts of a literary journal editor. He asked me some questions about the story’s meaning and how it ended, and then the time-keeper announced that the session was over. Nate said he’d like to read my story again, after I revised, and gave me his email address. I was so glad I hadn’t bolted.