Chuckanut Writers Conference Is Calling!

“When I hear writers talk about their turning points, they often mention conferences where they suddenly learned something valuable about craft or discipline. And it’s not always what they heard so much as how it felt to be surrounded by other determined writers for a couple days.”

—Jim Lynch

author of Border Songs and Truth Like the Sun

Dear Writers,

Been there, got that tee-shirt. Seen one, seen ’em all. You can never go back. . . . Unless it’s the Chuckanut Writers Conference!


Kristiana Kahakauwila's talk will be on "The Best Draft Yet: Strategies for Revision.  She is the author of the lauded book This is Paradise: Stories.

Kristiana Kahakauwila’s talk will be on “The Best Draft Yet: Strategies for Revision. She is the author of the lauded book This is Paradise: Stories.

Then, I say, feel free to get addicted and stay addicted, and I will meet you there on Friday–Saturday, June 27–28 at the gorgeous Whatcom Community College campus in Bellingham WA! Now in its fourth year, this amazing writers’ conference co-sponsored by Whatcom Community College and Village Books has steadily delivered an awesome faculty as well as being a great gathering ground for writers to connect, network, swap stories, and socialize—it’s the best kind of inspiring fun.

Both WCC and Village Books are near and dear to my heart—and just knock it off if you’re calling out clichés in my writing; not everyone can be Jim Lynch, although you can meet him at the conference. So, the college because I’ve taught creative writing classes for the community education branch for years, and Village Books because I emcee the monthly Open Mics held at the bookstore, and because, well, it’s a freakin’ awesome bookstore where lots of us go to read, write, and hang out, plus you can also shop next door at Paper Dreams, where I am guilty of spending some of my book allowance and got the coolest purse.

Beloved author of Border Songs, Jim Lynch will speak on "How to write the novel you'd love to read."

Beloved author of Border Songs, Jim Lynch will speak at the Chuckanut Writers Conference on “How to write the novel you’d love to read.”

I have a confession to make. A few weeks ago, someone asked me if I was going to be involved in the Chuckanut conference again this year. “No,” I said. “For the first time, I’m not on the team,” feeling sad as the words came out. I’ve been fortunate to act as the conference emcee, a faculty member, and a guest speaker in the last three years. “But I might go anyway,” I told my friend, realizing whether or not I had an actual gig, how could I possibly miss out on getting together with a few hundred other writers just a few miles from my house? I dashed home and looked at the faculty list . . . cwc

Alice Acheson (renowned marketing specialist and publicist for writers), Bruce Barcott (author of The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw), Claire Dederer (author of Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, which has been translated into 13 languages), Brian Doyle (editor of Portland Magazine and author of Mink River), Elaina Ellis (author of Write About an Empty Birdcage), Felicia Eth (principal of the SF Bay Area–based Felicia Eth Literary Representation), Karen Finneyfrock (author of The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door), Thor Hanson (author of The Impenetrable Forest), Kristiana Kahakauwila (author of This is Paradise: Stories), William Kenower (editor-in-chief of Author magazine and author of Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion), Joanna Kenyon (writing editor of Noisy Water Review and designer and producer of the letterpress book [V] Alive), David Laskin (author of The Family), Gary Luke (Publisher at Sasquatch Books), Jim Lynch (author of Truth Like the Sun and also Border Songs and The Highest Tide; hard not to play favorites here, since so many of us locally love Jim Lynch, who is famous all over), Rose McAleese (author of the poetry collection Strong. Female. Character.), Peter Mountford (author of The Dismal Science due out this year from Tin House Books), Anastacia Tolbert (writer, co-director, and co-producer of GOTBREAST? Documentary), Elizabeth Wales (principal at Wales Literary Agency), Lidia Yuknavitch (author of The Chronology of Water)

. . . soon deciding I could wait a little longer to put in new kitchen lights and save up for a ticket to the conference (TMI, but the non-cook who put in dangly lights over my down-vented stove did not realize how much gooey stuff would cling to the shades, and after a decade of not taking them down to wash them properly, they’re, well, noticeably dusty and sticky. If I had a mother-in-law, I’d be hearing about it big time).

David Laskin's breakout session is titled "Bridging Family History and History: Finding, Researching and Writing Significant Personal Narratives." He is the author of The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the 20th Century.

David Laskin’s breakout session is titled “Bridging Family History and History: Finding, Researching and Writing Significant Personal Narratives.” He is the author of The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the 20th Century.

Then I got an e-mail from Anna Wolff, the fabulous CWC Chairperson, asking if I would host the agents’ panel at the conference. “I’m sure I can fit it in,” I immediately answered (woo hoooo! I get to go to the Chuckanut Writers Conference and get kitchen lights! Life is good).

Seriously, what a delight and honor to be asked back, and I’m thrilled to be hosting the agents’ panel, as the discussion topics for that panel are so key to many writers who will be pitching at this conference or in the future. The agents’ panel should be pretty interesting, and really it’s even more than that, since it will include a publishing/marketing consultant (Alice Acheson), two pro agents (Felicia Eth and Elizabeth Wales), and the head of a publishing company (Gary Luke of Sasquatch Books), which will give us an interesting opportunity to talk about traveling a project from pitching it to pubbing it. So, among other things, if you want to let me know ahead of time something that you’re dying to ask an agent, marketing expert, or a book publisher, I’d love to know your questions in advance.

BTW: Last year, I gave a briefing on pitching and posted the text of it here. If you’re new to this conference, head over to the CWC website and you can also read my recap from last year.

This year’s conference schedule includes pre-conference events for writers, kicking off with the hilarious and beloved Chuckanut Radio Hour featuring Mink River author Brian Doyle. You can attend the live radio show at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 26, at WCC’s Heiner Theater. As you know if you’re an addict like myself, every conference has its own vibe and attractions. Here’s a few things to know about Chuckanut Writers Conference:

Anastacia Tolbert's talk will be "XXX."

Anastacia Tolbert’s session, called “Letter Me This” will invite you to employ Tanka and Bop poetric devices as a conduit to express your thoughts on the page.

There will be food. Important to sustain you during two days of writerly glee. You can buy a box lunch option when you register, graze from the food trucks that will be parked at the conference, skip out to a nearby restaurant, or pack along your own. This is the pitch coach in me talking: maybe don’t bring along smelly food if you’re planning to pitch or sit by anyone.

There will be concurrent breakout sessions. Take a look at the schedule in advance and plan to maximize your time. Plan which sessions you want to hit, as sometimes you’ll need to choose between two writers you want to hear speak and you may want to think about it in advance.

There will be agent pitch sessions and marketing consultations, but because of the demand, you’ll need to sign up for these when you register. There will be no pitch sign-ups during the conference.

There will be books and signings. Village Books will have an on-site bookstore open during both days of the conference with titles by the conference faculty available for purchase. I don’t know about you, but the books I treasure the most are my signed copies from authors I’ve had the chance to meet or discover at a conference.

The conference will conclude with concurrent open mics held in and around Village Books in Fairhaven WA. Totally fun!

The conference will conclude with concurrent open mics held in and around Village Books in Fairhaven WA. Totally fun!

There will be open mics. Saturday night, open mics will be held in Fairhaven, in and around Village Books. Funny enough, although I’m the regular emcee at Village Books’ Open Mic Nights, no one has ever asked me to host an open mic at the conference. (Hey Anna, idea for any year you don’t have another job for me. :)) Bring a 2–3 minute piece to read and be prepared to have a blast. If you’re not used to reading your work aloud, these open mics are a great way to get over shyness, and you’ll have a supportive audience of your peers, plus anyone who walks by and gets sucked in the door by the obvious good times happening.

There will be fun and sunshine. That’s a prediction on my part. But I know I’m right.

Laurel Leigh

XO Laurel Leigh


P.S.: I was looking back over my Chuckanut conference notebooks and found this bit of fiction I wrote about Jim Lynch, who was the keynote the inaugural year and also went to one of the breakout sessions I was at, where the assignment inspired this bit:

The cuticle on his left middle finger was bleeding again. It was the finger he chewed the most while writing. Over years of chewing, that middle finger sore, he’d adjusted—not consciously at first—by typing the letter “d” less. A cat instead of a dog. The character named Anna vs. Diana.

I’ll have to work on this some more at this year’s conference! See you there.

Paul Hanson holds court!

Paul Hanson of Village Books talks with writers at the 2013 conference.

12 thoughts on “Chuckanut Writers Conference Is Calling!

    • Hi Naomi! I’m so glad you get the sticky light reference–your photos are always so gorgeous that I have this vision of your house as being magazine-quality photo ready 24-7! It’s nice to know that you have a little dust like the rest of us mortals. 🙂

      It would be a blast if you came up for the Chuckanut conference one of these times. It’s a great gathering.

      • Dear Laurel,
        Anything looks good by twinkle light! I am determined to finish up a couple of big writing projects this year, and if I am anywhere near done, I will be planning my travel around the conferences, so one of these times, and I hope next year! I feel better just knowing that there is a writer-friendly place not so very far from us.

        • Good luck with your writing projects. I’m sure your work will be extremely well received. It will be exciting to see what you turn out. If you’re going to be looking for an agent, I’ll be happy to tell you some that I think are good.

      • Ah, the life! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to bounce from conference to conference for a year, not having to present, of course–because that would be too much like work. Just attend and soak up the different cultures of each conference. Sweet!

        It is a great line-up. Please don’t tempt me…You know I have weak will power.

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