Tag Archives: Willamette Writers Conference

Willamette Writers Conference 2013: A View from the South (of Oregon)

An apple and Joseph Campbell often kept me company between sessions.

An apple and Joseph Campbell often kept me company between sessions.

While I am in a reflective frame of mind, I’ll note what I considered the high points of this year’s Willamette Writers Conference. It is one of the best attended and most significant gatherings of aspiring and established writers on the West Coast, a must for anyone who is either searching for their break or searching for improvement.
It’s too easy to say that WWC is just another gathering of frustrated writers desperate for an agent or a contract. True, there were plenty of people (including me) who would consider the coup of coming home with an agent or a book deal a major triumph. However, speaker after speaker reminded us that writing is a business, and that a successful business requires professionalism. Professionals are people who practice their profession every work day, take what they do seriously, keep their promises to people, and work hard not to burn any bridges. That list of skills will serve you well anywhere in the work world. As a former newspaper reporter, close to 15 years of working for editors taught me those habits frequently have more to do with writing success than any measure of talent.
Since I am a non-fiction writer, I suffer the disadvantage of lacking skills like writing clever dialogue or coining bon mots in prose on demand. I stick to facts, Ma’am, and I am happy to do it. However, the skills of the fiction writer can guide me just as well as the need to fact-check information or determine whether I am meeting an editor’s assignment expectations. When I go to WWC, I attend at least one seminar that I consider completely outside of my current direction as a writer. This year, it was a workshop led by Susan DeFreitas, an editor with Indigo Editing & Publications in Beaverton, on writing speculative fiction. I adore science fiction, particularly the work of Robert Heinlein, and my first youthful output as a writer was science fiction short stories written in high school. But, I haven’t penned fiction in years. However, her workshop reminded me that good writing often begins with a set of questions, the self-interview a writer should perform to focus your topic. What are some of the current trends in society that alarm me? What are trends or developments that interest me? How will human nature, culture, and society be challenged by these trends, and how will that challenge create conflict? Those are questions she suggested science fiction writers ask themselves. Yet, I would do well to ask those questions and others before writing a blog post or a piece on assignment. I write about history and contemporary American politics. Conflict and the interesting stories that arise out of tension are completely germane to my genre.

I enjoyed meeting four prospective agents. The bottom line: Most said I had a clever, well-written project after reviewing my

What I jokingly called "The Ouija Board": Authors gather around the schedule for consults with agents and editors.

What I jokingly called “The Ouija Board”: Authors gather around the schedule for consults with agents and editors.

treatment. All of them said, “I don’t handle your kind of book.” So, I didn’t come home with an agent. However, three of them either suggested publishing houses by name that do publish titles like mine; one wanted me to send him the treatment so he could pass it around to editors he supervises in the hopes they might take interest. That is called “opportunity” in my book. It’s always another chance for rejection, but I have learned that writing takes a tough hide and the commitment to decide that I will be the last man standing.

Finally, I was pleased to meet the Willamette Writer’s coordinator for Southern Oregon. The cultural epicenter of the state is the Portland area, yet there are plenty of talented people elsewhere in Oregon. For the first time in my life, I am heartily tired of writing in isolation. If monthly meetings in my neck of the woods are substantive rather than bitch sessions, I will start attending them.

All in all, Willamette Writers Conference offered what I expected: A chance to refresh my mojo and shop my work in a place filled with interesting writers with interesting ideas. That was worth four days away from home, but it was time spent close to what sparks my mind.

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Weigh Anchor and Full Steam Ahead to Portland for Willamette Writers Conference

WillieFinalTurq2WbIt’s “Portland, ho!” this morning when I trade the smoke-choked Rogue Valley for the Willamette Writers Conference, the largest and most significant event for writers of fiction and non-fiction on the West Coast.

I look forward to the scenic drive and occasional stop along the way. But, my goal is prompt arrival at Willamette Writers by mid-afternoon so I am on time to register and then participate in pre-conference activities including pitch practice. That’s a great opportunity to rehearse my self-promotion by delivering my pitch (a description of my project that should sum up my book for a potential agent or publisher in less than 30 seconds) to a panel of agents who volunteer as reviewers. The feedback is priceless and I’d rather make my mistakes during pitch practice than during the one-on-one with an agent.

As mentioned earlier, I will be shopping my treatment of a proposed book on how to more efficiently and easily learn U.S. history through the use of memory aids and my completed manuscript of an interpretative guide to the Declaration of Independence. Of the two, I think the first of the two projects has some hope. All my finished book has gathered is a large pile of rejection letters. However, one aspect of my personality is an almost naive belief that every day is new day for an opportunity to advance my career. Besides, I am writer. Rejection is part of the daily diet.

I will post updates on conference activities, as well as my observations while hobnobbing with fellow writers and professionals from the world of publishing. Also, I will do my best to remember the principle that too many posts just become noise to a reader.

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See You In Portland, Ore., At the Willamette Writers Conference

WillieFinalTurq2WbI’ll toss my historian’s hat on the hat rack long enough to mention that August 2-4 I will attend the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Ore., one of the most beautiful and literate cities in the nation.  While there, I will hobnob with fellow writers, seek more mojo as a businessman whose trade is writing, and pitch both a finished manuscript and a treatment for another book I have in the works. Regrettably, I couldn’t book a room at the Airport Sheraton where the conference is taking place,  but my digs will be the equally enjoyable and conveniently located Courtyard by Marriott Portland Airport. I will post regular updates about the conference at this site starting Thursday when I arrive the day before the formal opening for prep events. 

Willamette Writers is the premier writing group in the Pacific Northwest, offering critique groups, timely market news about the world of publishing, and excellent speakers. They have chapters throughout the state, a boon for a guy like me who lives in the rural charms of southern Oregon a.k.a. BFE. Frankly, the conference is a lot of fun because writers can be a miserable lot.  (All that rejection, you know … .) As history teaches us, it is better to hang together than be strung up separately — and that goes double for writers.  Feel free to look me up for a chin wag and some liquid refreshment between seminars. 

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