Sunday, June 10, 2012

Clarksville Writer's Conference 2012

Robert Penn Warren
I attended my first writer's conference right here in River City. I am fortunate one was held so close to my home. The Clarksville Writer's Conference 2012 was this past Thursday and Friday, June 7-8, 2012. The workshops were interesting and immediately meaningful to me as a (hopeful) future writer.

The list of presenters was impressive:

  • Alex S. Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, co-author of The Patriarch: The Rise and Fall of the Bingham Dynasty, and current director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government
  • Tracy Barrett, young-adult writer and author of the award-winning Anna of ByzantiumKing of Ithaka and Dark of the Moon
  • Debbie Carter, literary agent with Muse Literary Management in New York City
  • Marshall Chapman, critically-acclaimed musician, songwriter and author ofGoodbye, Little Rock and Roller and They Came to Nashville
  • Peggy DeKay, authority on self-publishing and author of Self-Publishing for Virgins
  • Jeff Hardin, poet and author of the chapbooks Deep in the Shallows andThe Slow Hill Out and the collection Fall Sanctuary
  • Keven McQueen, author of true crime and mystery novels including Murder in Old Kentucky and The Axman Came From Hell and Other Southern True Crime Stories
  • A. Scott Pearson, Vanderbilt University surgeon and author of the medical thriller Rupture and Public Anatomy
  • Alice Randall, author of The Wind Done GonePushkin and the Queen of SpadesRebel Yell and the forthcoming Ada's Rules
  • Chuck Sambuchino, editor of Writer's Digest's Guide to Literary Agents and author of How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack
  • Barbara Scott, literary agent with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado
  • Frederick Smock, poet and author of Blue HourSonnets and Deer at Gethsemani: Ecologues
  • Marianne Walker, author of the book Margaret Mitchell and John Marsh: The Love Story Behind Gone with the Wind
I was captivated by each session and took copious notes I plan to work into my own writing. On Thursday, I was privileged to meet Tracey Barrett and Alice Randall. 

Tracey Barrett is a YA/MG author that has written several books. She presented a workshop on Young Adult and Middle Grades fiction and historical fiction writing. She gave me a few nuggets of wisdom to apply should I return to this genre. Her presentation was informative.

Alice Randall - let me just give a loud shouting WOW! to this woman and author. She really stole the show for me. I had intended on only sitting in on her first lecture of the day, "How to Borrow Genre Fiction to Enhance Literary Fiction" but it was so truly fascinating and she, herself, was so fascinating that I attended her second workshop as well, "Uses and Mis-uses of Autobiography when Writing Fiction." And I'm glad I did.

She provided me with so many pieces of writing wisdom, to specifically note the differences in genre fiction (pop fiction like romance, thriller, chick-lit, etc...the stuff I often call my guilty reads - and that's okay!) and literary fiction. She explained it like this:  In literary fiction you (the reader) are driving the car. You have to work to understand it all, because it's deep and moving and intellectual and challenging, but in genre fiction, you (the reader) are being chauffeured through the story because it's light. Genre fiction speaks to our emotions and it meets our expectations: the crime will be solved, they will fall in love, there is a happily ever after. Literary fiction challenges those expectations.  But, she gave great advice on how to bring these concepts together - to use genre fiction to anchor literary fiction so the reader has an opportunity for both. I loved this concept! Right now I am at work on an outline that is most likely a "women's fiction" or to use the slang term I hate "chick-lit". But, with the advice of Alice Randall, I'm hoping to make it a combination of genre/literary fiction. To reinvent language audaciously and anchor my story in a chauffeured seat, but every now and then, you have to drive. A bold combination of intellectual complexity and simplicity. A very tall order.

Her second presentation was on autobiographies and using them to drive your fiction. As a writer, we can't help but put ourselves into our characters. And this is a danger. Because we know how we would respond, or how our best friend will respond, or our co-worker, etc...and this stifles the writing. It doesn't allow our characters to be in the moment. The best quote I took from this workshop, "Write someone else's life as if it was your own, and write your life as if it someone else's." Powerful advice.

Alice Randall is also the writer-in-residence at Vanderbilt University. If there was an MFA program I could attend, it would be Vandy's so there is just one more reason I should do it!

On Friday, I attended a few presentation as well. A second one with Tracy Barrett about finding an idea and finishing the book. It was very surface level and I didn't love it, but there were still a few pearls of wisdom.

The show-stopper on Friday was Fredrick Smock, a poet. Mr. Smock is currently poet-in-residence at Bellarmine University, in Louisville, where he teaches creative writing, literature, and art criticism; each summer, he teaches in Denmark with the KIIS Consortium. For those that know me, know poetry isn't a genre I am pulled towards. But his poetry isn't singsongy and form demanding, it's interesting and pliable giving you time to think, to mull over the ideas, and find the depth without pushing. He presented a workshop for "Publishing as a Fiction Writer" and discussed the nitty gritty of the industry. It was cut-throat and harsh from time to time, but this is a cut-throat business. There will be no coddling. 

He finished his presentation by letting us know that an MFA program was worth every dime. I had a gut feeling on this already. Now to just find the funds to secure the adventure - winning lottery ticket anyone?

Overall, I found it to be a great experience and I will attend again next year. Rubbing elbows with other writers sparks the mind and the creative process.

But, I must admit one of my favorite aspects of the day was getting to know my colleague and writer friend Lezlie Tyson just a bit better. If you've not had a chance to check out her book, The King's Heart, you definitely should!


  1. Well, I was going to blog on the conference, but now I am not sure if it is needed. This summed it up! Alice Randall was very engaging and able to put the complicated business of writing into easily digestible nuggets. I loved the poetry of Smock, as well, even though I admittedly do not read much poetry anymore. I did attend the sessions on POD publishing and marketing your work which were very helpful. My mind has been whirring since I left with ideas. It was a great two days. And, yes, spending it with a friend was the icing on the cake.

  2. You should still blog away :-).