As evening approached on Thursday, September 19, the writers gathered. Drawn by the promise of shared wisdom and new perspectives on writing, we made our way to the second floor of the Westin Virginia Beach Town Center.
This year I challenged myself with sessions about short story writing and first person point of view. (I rarely attempt short fiction, and I never write in first person.) Between challenges, I attended sessions about copyright, novel writing, and poetry.
- Creating the World in a Short Story — Clifford Garstang
- Copyrights and Wrongs: Fair use of quotes & other things to avoid a lawsuit — Jeff Ourvan
- Where Does My Story Start: How to Write a Winning First Chapter — Lisa McMann
- First Person Problems: The specific challenges and opportunities of writing first person — Lydia Netzer
- Different Voices, Different Times — Lydia Netzer
- Do Put Words in my Mouth: Creating realistic and effective dialogue — Ethan Vaughan
- Exquisite Sounds — Jeanne Larsen
Each morning of the conference started with a keynote address followed by First Ten Lines Critique sessions. The critique panel consisted of authors Lisa McMann (Friday morning only) and Kevin Maurer, along with literary agents Ethan Vaughan, Jeff Ourvan, and Dawn Dowdle.
Recurrent themes emerged as the panelists discussed samples of writing submitted by conference attendees. Overwriting hampered many openings. Weak dialogue and too much description slowed the pace. Shifts in tense and point of view distracted from the stories.
Each of these problems exist in my writing, but they are easier to see in someone else’s lines. I came away from these sessions with renewed gratitude for my writing partners, who see my mistakes more readily than I do.
I could spend weeks cataloguing what I learned and fail to cover it all. I could read for months and not read all the books I discovered.* Instead of attempting either, I’m writing.
I’m following paths of scent and light, spreading grains of pollen gathered at the conference. Perhaps a few of my poems and stories will germinate, will take root and grow.
The conference ended with a delightful surprise. My short story (my only “finished” short story) won Honorable Mention in The Frank Lawlor Memorial Fiction Prize!
* I came home with a new title from Unbound Content, and I’m waiting impatiently for delivery of books by Jeanne Larsen and Lisa McMann. Next year, I’ll order Lydia Netzer’s new book as soon as it is released. In the meantime, I’ll read Shine Shine Shine again.