Chuckanut Writers Conference Was All That!
It was awesome!
Here’s some pics from the 2015 Chuckanut Writers Conference.
The familiar doors of Syre Hall on Whatcom Community College’s gorgeous campus were the entryway to the fifth annual Chuckanut Writers Conference, featuring a fab lineup of authors, literary agents, and publishing experts: Betsy Amster, Philip Athans, Carol Cassella, Kerry Colburn, Anne Depue, Bryan Doyle, Steven Galloway, Elizabeth George, Samuel Green, Lee Gulyas, Denise Jolly, Stephanie Kallos, William Kenower, Elizabeth Kracht, Erik Larson, Robert Lashley, Kate Lebo, Brenda Miller, Elissa Washuta, Molly Wizenberg, and Jennifer Worick. Wow!
Kate Lebo, author of A Commonplace Book of Pie and Pie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour and Butter gave the welcoming address, offering wonderful inspiration for how to harness the power of one’s writing to achieve authority—in which the word “author” dwells.
I caught up with conference emcee Bob Winters, who opened the event with his usual hilarity and class. Bob serves as the Chair of the Arts and Humanities Division at Whatcom Community College, which is the co-sponsor, along with Village Books, of the annual Chuckanut Writers Conference in Bellingham WA.
Conference Chair Jessica Lohafer‘s gracious demeanor made everyone feel welcome. Jessica assumed the position previously held by Anna Wolff, who stepped away to accept a full-time position teaching English at WCC. Congratulations to both of these inspiring women!
It wouldn’t be a conference without book pitches. Writers Deanna Todd-Goodson (left) and Cate Perry, both former students and also dear friends of mine, took a few minutes between sessions to prep their pitches. I hope the agents loved their stories as much as I do!
Speaking of agents, I had a chance to talk shop with the insightful Anne Depue, who bases her agenting operation in the Northwest and has a devotion to books that explore Nature in all its facets. Anne, along with agents Betsy Amster (Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises) and Elizabeth Kracht (Kimberley Cameron & Associates) and publishing experts Kerry Colburn and Jennifer Worick (partners in The Business of Books) graced the panel I hosted at this year’s conference that centered on helping writers navigate the business side of publishing. Panels hosted by Chuck Robinson of Village Books, writer Nan Macy, teacher/writer Jeff Bender, and teacher/writer Anna Wolff offered an array of topics, including how to wrestle your book to the finish line and Can You Hear Me Now? A Conversation on Voice Both Spoken and Written.
Roland Ketchley found a quiet moment to look over the Conference Program Book, which offered a handy A-to-Z guide to the conference. Roland has volunteered at all five conferences to help the day run smoothly. Props to Roland and the other awesome volunteers who lent their time and expertise to help make the event so awesome to attend.
Author of four novels, most recently the heralded The Confabulist, Steven Galloway joined the Chuckanut Writers Conference for the first time this year. We’re so glad he did. Steven taught an in-depth breakout session focusing on managing third-person narrative. He also taught one of the pre-conference master classes, a new conference element this year and which will continue going forward, so if you’re already planning for next year, ask you boss if you can take Thursday, June 23, 2016, off.
Here’s Steven discussing third-person narrative. N at the top represents the narrator and the C at the bottom stands for the character. This white board was completely filled by the time he finished giving writers some great tools to decipher and manage the delicate balance between narrator and character that defines the powerful third-person voice.
A treat for me was getting to catch up with agent Elizabeth Kracht of Kimberley Cameron & Associates, who returned to this conference for the third time this year and has become a dear friend over the years. Elizabeth represents both literary and commercial fiction as well as nonfiction. You can follow her on Facebook, where you’ll get a sense of her great demeanor and see how hard she works to promote the talented authors she represents.
Three familiar and beloved faces: General Manager Paul Hanson (left) and owner/founder Chuck Robinson of Village Books, co-sponsor of the conference. At right is writer Nan Macy, who served on the inaugural conference advisory committee and this year hosted the discussion panel on literary influences. If you’re a writer in these parts, then you know that Village Books in historic Fairhaven is a writer’s second living room, office, and gathering place.
Writer and creative writing teacher Jeff Bender (far right) hosted the panel titled Drawing from the Well of Life: A Conversation on Getting the Personal onto the Page. The lively panel consisted of (l to r) Kate Lebo, Elissa Washuta, Molly Wizenberg, and William Kenower, all lauded for their honesty on the page. “Is there anything you wouldn’t write about?” Jeff asked the panel.
The only frustrating thing about this conference is that you can’t be everywhere at once! Every part of the two-day event offers concurrent breakout sessions—seriously, how do you choose between Robert Lashley and Philip Athans? Or Carol Cassell and Sam Green? On the first day, I went to a fascinating session on collaborative writing, co-taught by Lee Gulyas (left) and Brenda Miller. Both of them teach at Western Washington University, are widely published, and frequent collaborators. This was a working session that offered the chance to write collaboratively and using photo art as inspiration. Basically, I didn’t want it to end.
I was delighted to catch up with the inimitable Bryan Doyle, author of such popular titles as Martin Marten, Mink River, and The Plover. We all know he regularly uses a cartoon doodle as his author photo. So here’s what he actually looks like! From the back, anyway. That guy is so dang funny. Bryan taught one of the plenary sessions and had us all in stitches reading letters received from his many readers.
At last he agreed to turn around.
This year’s conference was filled with memorable moments for me, one of them being that Kerry Colburn (at right, author of several nonfiction titles, including How to Have Your Second Child First) was on this year’s faculty. While I was studying at SFSU for the MFA, I worked at Chronicle Books in San Francisco (I still work for that publisher but from afar), and Kerry was an acquisitions editor there and my first boss when I joined the editorial team as an intern. It was so great to see her and also have her speak on the panel I hosted. Along with the hilarious Jennifer Worick (author of numerous books, including Things I Want to Punch in the Face), Kerry co-runs The Business of Books, a Seattle-based publishing consultation company that helps authors develop compelling proposals and grow their platforms.
This conference offers so many opportunities to connect with people instrumental to your writing life. At the 2012 Chuckanut Writers Conference, during a breakout session, I happened to be seated next to Norman Green, owner of Threshold Documents and co-editor to Mary Gillilan of Clover, A Literary Rag, the gorgeous bi-annual journal published by the Independent Writers’ Studio. Norman asked me to submit to Clover; of course I did and have been honored to have multiple stories published in the journal, including “Two Houses Down,” which appears in Clover Volume 9 that pubbed in concert with this year’s conference. I took a pic of Mary and Norman, but it was undone by the sunlight streaming through the window, so here’s one of beloved Clover editor Mary Gillilan and I that Norman took. Clover is accepting submissions for the next issue, so get cracking!
And, there was shopping! Village Books maintains an on-site bookstore all during the conference. In between buying books, I sneaked behind the counter to take a pic with the lovely Dee Robinson, co-founder of Village Books. Working around the conference days, Dee has coordinated with spouse and partner Chuck Robinson on his amazing cross-country bike ride for charity. Chuck’s riding 2,400 miles from Bellingham WA to Galva IL to attend his high school reunion with the outcome of raising money for charities. You can follow Dee and Chuck on the road at his blogspot. It’s pretty inspiring, and there’s still time to donate to support some great charities!
Another cool thing about a conference is that everywhere you go, there’s writers! I came upon writer Dick Harris, who found a quiet spot to look over some materials. He didn’t know I was taking his picture until I snapped a few. Richard Lee “Dick” Harris is the author of the poetry collections Reimagine and Alaska & the Northwest and a longtimer at Open Mic nights at Village Books.
More writers! Here’s Ben Frerichs, who hosted an early morning session on forming writers’ groups, and Andrew Shattuck McBride, who hosted one of the four open mics that followed the conference. The sun coming in was so bright that it made taking pictures in the main hall nearly impossible, but hopefully you can see the smiles on these guys’s faces.
All during the conference, the main hallway of the expansive Syre Building is lined with tables sponsored by area writing organizations. Writers Susan Chase-Foster (author of the wonderful blog Still Live with Tortillas) and Bob Duke looked quite industrious when I came by the table sponsored by Red Wheelbarrow Writers, an awesome local group that fosters community among writers through its classes, write-outs, and readings.
I felt compelled to crash the party.
The smile on local poet Harvey Schwartz‘s face summed up the general feeling pervading this conference. After a successful career as a chiropractor, Harvey turned his attention to writing and has delighted us at local events with his beautiful poetry and witty prose. The writing is going well! Harvey’s writing has appeared in Clover, A Literary Rag and The Sun and he recently finished filming his first self-produced documentary film.
As a past faculty member, I knew where the faculty reception was taking place, so I crashed it to grab a slice of pizza and snap some pics. I love this one of a smiling Jessica Lohafer.
Denise Jolly (left) and Elissa Washuta helped to spread more smiles around. It was such a happy crowd! But that’s how it goes at this event. How can you not be happy spending two days with a couple hundred other writers?
I have a hard time taking pictures during the faculty reading, since I just want to listen and luxuriate in the wonderful poetry and prose. Here’s William Kenower, who also taught one of the plenary sessions. William is the author of Write Within Yourself and also editor in chief of Author magazine. His honest writing about raising and learning from a son who has been diagnosed as autistic is riveting, thoughtful, and often hilarious. This was William’s second tour on the CWC faculty.
Before we knew it, it was nearly time to go. Bestselling, award-winning novelist Elizabeth George (A Great Deliverance, Well-Schooled in Murder, and many more) left us sated and inspired with her closing address, offering a wealth of knowledge about how to achieve and live the writer’s life to its fullest.
Did anyone hurry off? Nope. We stragglers hung around long after the last session ended, to debrief, visit, and share experiences.
Next year’s Chuckanut Writers Conference will be Friday and Saturday, June 24 and 25, 2016. See you there!
XO Laurel Leigh