Tete a Tete with literary agent Jill Marr grand raffle prize at Blazing Laptops event

It’ll take more than a nifty turn of phrase to impress Jill Marr. Her 16 years as a literary agent with Del Mar’s Sandra Dijkstra Agency has paired her with best-selling authors from all over the country. So aspiring authors need more than a way with words to convince her to add to her roster of two dozen writers she’s shepherding toward publication.

At a minimum, it’ll take a keen sense of audience and at least some grasp of the ins and outs of publishing.

“I’m always much more impressed with people who are able to approach me with knowledge of the industry,” Marr said. “If they know what they’re doing, it really puts them up a notch in my book and makes me want to work with them.”

That rare chance to confab with a seasoned pro — to sit where so many accomplished authors have sat before — will be up for grabs on May 21 when several dozen wordsmiths hunker down for the 10th annual Blazing Laptops in Point Loma.

The all-day fundraiser is the product of San Diego Writers Ink, a non-profit housed in Liberty Station. To mark the event’s anniversary, SDWI will raffle off a power lunch with Marr, offering up the chance to pick her brain and maybe — just maybe — make the pitch that lands a spot on Marr’s roster of authors.

It might be easy to be intimidated by Marr’s cohorts. That roster includes journalists Gregg Zorroya and Kristina Rizga, Washington state senator Pramila Jayapal and TV personalities Nick Groff (Travel Channel) and Fred Stoller (Everybody Loves Raymond). But fear not, a San Diegan that breaks through isn’t as far-fetched as you might think. The venerated agency that Sandra Dijkstra started more than 30 years ago has represented a long list of local legends — Mike Davis, Chalmers Johnson and Janell Cannon to name a few.

And while, yes, pedigree matters, perspective matters more.

“Fresh ideas are so hard to come by,” Marr said. “We are always looking for the new next breakout novelist or book.”

Mysteries, thrillers and “high-end” horror in the vein of Thomas Harris — the dark genius who dreamed up Hannibal Lecter — top her wish list. She’s also known to sink her teeth into a good piece of historical fiction, and always has an appetite for screenplay-friendly women’s fiction.

And another word to the wise: don’t skimp on the word count.

“People will come to me and say, ‘I have a novel I’m excited to show you!’ and it’s 50,000 words and I have to tell them, ‘Actually, no, that’s not a full-length adult novel.’”

The writers at Blazing Laptops won’t accumulate such an audacious amount, but it’s just the sort of exercise that’s perfect for bringing aspiring authors out into wider audiences, attention and acclaim.

“I love that it pushes people, because sometimes people can get into such a rut. I see how people get writer’s block,” Marr said. “So being surrounded by others, and all that creativity, it’s a great idea.”

Blazing Laptops runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 21 at the Ink Spot, Liberty Station, 2730 Historic Decatur Road, Barracks 16, Suite 202.

Also this year, SDWI is compiling the 10th anniversary edition of A Year in Ink, its anthology of local poetry, non-fiction, short stories and book excerpts. This year’s commemorative edition features 40 works picked from an all-time high of 450 submissions.

“Every year we are the first publication for somebody, and give them their first big break,” said Kim Keeline, SDWI’s marketing and communications director.

Learn more about Blazing Laptops and SDWI at www.sandiegowriters.org.

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