Arts and Entertainment

Writers descend on Whidbey for one-day conference

Jamie Ford, author of the recent national best seller, “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” will be one of many authors present June 12 at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference.  - Courtesy photo
Jamie Ford, author of the recent national best seller, “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” will be one of many authors present June 12 at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference.
— image credit: Courtesy photo


South Whidbey Record

So, you want to be a writer.

Well, it’s always a good rule of thumb to hang out with those like-minded souls in your field who may be able to inspire, inform and instigate a good discussion on the ins-and-outs of the process.

That’s why, for all you aspiring Harper Lees and Elmore Leonards, the writers conference is a good place to pick up a few pointers. Conferences are chock-full of experts in the various departments of publishing with everything from non-fiction to poetry, mystery and the business of selling a story. The Whidbey Island Writers Conference is no exception.

Sponsored by the Whidbey Island Writers Association under the auspices of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, this year, the Whidbey Island Writers Conference is a one-day affair, packed with lots for writers to do.

The conference is on Saturday, June 12 at the Clinton Community Hall, and begins at 8:45 a.m. with an early-bird class on pitching a story.

It continues through the morning and afternoon with some very special chat houses at private island homes from about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., throws in a few opportunities for mini-consults with agents during the course of the day, and ends marvelously with a dinner at the hall at 5 p.m. at which authors, agents and participants can relax, socialize, sign books and listen to a few choice words from bestselling crime novelist and Langley resident Elizabeth George.

The conference, now in its 11th year, hit a speed bump in the economic slump, and was on the verge of collapse when George gave it a boost.

George donated a matching grant to the conference through the Elizabeth George Foundation in order to help it secure a future on the island and help it return to its original full-weekend form.

If the conference can raise $15,000 by July 1, the foundation will match the amount and the conference will be on its way toward the $90,000 needed to bring back the full-fledged event in 2011.

Support does not just come in the form of donations, conference chairwoman Dorothy Read said. The campaign has spearheaded a collaborative spirit between the arts organizations that Read and team member Donna Hood see as a healthy direction for the arts.

A team of volunteers has been gathering momentum through a covey of fellow artists on the island who have rallied for the conference.

“I am touched by the response from other arts organizations that have offered support,” Read said.

Brave New Words poetry festival, the Open Door Gallery in Bayview, Skagit Valley Writers, and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, among others, have offered support.

“An association of associations,” said Hood, “sharing publicity opportunities, sharing calendars, understanding that each has a fundamental interest in the success of the others.”

The conference is lucky to have such support from the community, as well as that of George, as success seems to follow where she leads.

And a writers conference is a good place to make connections, something George learned after publishing her first book.

George just recently released “This Body of Death,” her 16th crime novel in a series that features the quite likable Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley.

Although that book sits securely atop the New York Times Best Seller List for hardcover fiction, George worked hard to get where she is today.

In the beginning, she mainly stayed home and wrote.

After that, her first published novel attracted enough attention to put her on an impressive panel of writers for her very first conference experience. But her experience as a presenter has taught her that the biggest mistake a writer can make is to compare themselves to what other authors are getting from a publisher. Get what you need, and don’t compare yourself to anyone, seems to be George’s message to aspiring authors.

Ultimately, the best thing about a writers conference, George said, is the people you meet.

“I met wonderful people, other writers,” George said.

“It was always about friendship for me. Some of my closest writer friends come from a group that I met at the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference over the years that I taught there.”

“Friendly” is certain to be one word used to describe the mini-conference on Whidbey, with its small-town flavor and big-city guests.

Among the presenting authors attending the conference are Cherry Adair, bestselling queen of romantic adventures such as “Kiss and Tell,” and “Seducing Mr. Right.” Also presenting for fiction will be Jamie Ford, author of the recent national best seller, “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.”

In the non-fiction category Seattle Times garden columnist and author of “The New Low-Maintenance Garden,” Valerie Easton will be on hand to give her tips on selling non-fiction work.

Local poet and teacher Lorraine Healy, fresh off her new release of “The Habit of Buenos Aires,” will dispense her quiet wisdom to all the poets in attendance, along with KUOW poetry host, poet, teacher and performer Elizabeth Austen, and poet and novelist Terry Persun.

Kirby Larson, Newbery Honor award-winner for her young adult novel “Hattie Big Sky,” will present her perspective on writing for children, along with Patrick Jennings, author of “Kate and the Electric Dogs,” as will a longer list of other fiction writers, memoirists, journalists and writers who have written for the stage and screen.

Agents making themselves available to authors at the conference are Andrea Brown, Amy Burkhardt, Andrea Hurst, Rob Daniels, Jill Marr, Sharlene Martin and Laurie McLean.

Patricia Duff can be reached at 221-5300, or pduff@southwhidbey

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