Networking, renewing inspiration, gaining skills, and spending time around other writers––these are the reasons to attend a writers conference. I’m a fan of writers conferences and particularly the South Coast Writers Conference held each year in Gold Beach on Presidents’ Day Weekend. It’s not the largest or most well-known writers gathering in the Northwest, but it’s one I go back to year after year. I’ve been to larger ones, in larger venues such as Portland, but I’m just a little partial to a conference at the coast in a small town.
Besides, some of the same presenters come to Gold Beach that you’ll see at larger conferences. It’s an eclectic mix, and I like what the conference offers. For those who want an intensive workshop, come on Friday. Each year, there are three all-day workshops limited to 25 participants apiece. This year included one each on writing poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.
On Saturday, there are always four 90-minute sessions (two before lunch and two after) where the participants have five workshops to choose among per session and each workshop is limited to 30 or less. In my experience, there are 12 to 20 in the classrooms. In the library, where some of the most popular presenters are located, there may be 30 attending. The Saturday sessions are held at Gold Beach High School. And Friday sessions are held at the Event Center at the Beach (aka the fairgrounds).
On Friday evening––Authors’ Night––the Keynote speaker leads off, followed by several conference presenters doing readings or short presentations about their work. And on Saturday evening, Gold Beach Books and Coffee House hosts a Writers’ Circle for those who want to continue––reading, critiquing, and/or networking. Also, on Saturday is a concert at the unique Pistol River Friendship Hall by a group that also presents a workshop on Saturday involving music with writing.
The Rogue River Echoes anthology is an annual publication of the writings of participants and presenters in poetry, prose, photographs, and artwork. Those planning to submit have until April 1.
I’ve attended 15 of the 18 conferences, and for at least two years, I was a presenter. In the anthology, I’ve had two pieces published—a non-fiction short story and a prose poem. My usual routine is to attend Authors’ Night on Friday and the four sessions on Saturday. Since I have friends in town, I meet them for dinner Saturday evening and the next morning for coffee and goodies at the coffee house at Gold Beach Books. Often, a writing friend, Jan Jett, accompanies me, but this year, she was unable to come.
This year, three of my favorite authors, who are also good teachers, were presenting. I made sure to sign up for their workshops as soon as I received my conference info. They are Bob Welch, award-winning columnist for Eugene’s Register–Guard and author of 15 books; William Sullivan, outdoor columnist for the Register–Guard and Salem Statesman–Journal and author of four novels and a dozen books about Oregon, including Listening for Coyote, one of Oregon’s 100 Books; and Elizabeth Lyon, former college writing instructor, freelance book editor, and author of six books for writers.
My fourth choice was Bruce Holbert, a high school teacher from Washington, who has two novels and been published in many literary publications.
I’ll include a few nuggets from my workshops:
* Holbert taught about Dialogue. He emphasized over and over that it has to sound natural––like real people talking. “It’s a lot like music,” he said. “You can hear if it’s out of tune.” That really resonated with me. He showed film clips of great and not so great dialogue and passed out good written examples from Flannery O’Conner, Raymond Carver, and Ernest Hemingway
* I took Successful Self-Publishing from William Sullivan, our Keynote Speaker. He told us, “It’s a great time to be an author, but it’s not a great time to own a bookstore.” And to “Try out your idea at a bookstore to see what kind of a market it might have while it’s still just an idea.” He gave the pros and cons of traditional “big house” publishers—mostly cons. And he covered the many self-publishing options. “The most common problems for folks in self-publishing,” he said, “are over printing and under pricing. Books should be priced five to 10 times their cost to produce.” He had lots of worthwhile info.
* Elizabeth Lyon gave good advice in Tell Well: How to Describe and Inform. Here are excerpts from her handout, “Description needs to be specific, not vague; relevant; necessary for reader understanding at the moment; natural—worked in, layered into the writing; and paced to match the pace of the particular passage and place of the story.”
* And Bob Welch showed us how to paint with words through the use of metaphors and similes. He shared examples and gave us writing exercises. He reminded us that we are always writers, and that we should keep a journal. “Always be listening and write down what you like,” he said. “Have a file of possibilities. It’s okay to exaggerate. Use metaphors that are readily known, don’t mix them, keep them short, and use them sparingly. And stay away from clichés.”
Even though I’m a non-fiction writer, each session was useful, and I’ll try to incorporate some of what I’ve learned into my writing.
During the day, my books along with others were on sale in the cafetorium, our “meeting room,” under the watchful eye of staff from Gold Beach Books. This is a great opportunity for writers to get their books out there.
Closing activities included awarding two scholarships and giving away many door prizes donated by local merchants and presenters.
By 5:30 p.m. folks were heading out. I went back to my motel briefly before meeting a friend for dinner at a fairly new restaurant in town called The Bridge. (Who’d a thunk it!) Laurel Gerkman, a writer for Oregon Coast magazine where I worked as her editor for many years and the author of Renderings, said she simply couldn’t resist meeting me there for dinner. The restaurant is quite close to the I.L. Patterson Bridge over the Rogue River designed by McCullough and one of the great coastal bridges. The food and visit were wonderful.
The next morning I met Evelyn, who now lives in Gold Beach but used to work with me several years ago in the editorial department at Oregon Coast and Northwest Travel magazines in Florence. We’ve remained friends and try to meet each year the weekend of the conference. So we had coffee and goodies at the coffee house at Gold Beach Books. Always a treat!
All three days were blue-sky beautiful, but Sunday turned windy and cool. Mid-day, I headed home with one stop to deliver six copies of Crossings and 10 copies of The Crossings Guide for the South Slough National Estuarine Reserve near Charleston––a new venue.
I got home about 4:30 p.m. after a thoroughly worthwhile, successful, and enjoyable weekend. I was bushed. So I spent a few days just taking it easy this week.
Note: I sold 52 books from Friday through Sunday. So far I’ve sold 1,732 of Crossings and 236 of The Crossings Guide.