It’s that time of year again. I spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in Eureka Springs, Arkansas at the Ozark Creative Writers Conference. For forty-six years, they’ve been bringing in experts in the industry, and this year was no exception.
Thursday evening began with prolific western writer Dusty Richards holding an informal meet-and-greet. Many attendants gathered for two hours, introducing themselves and talking about their writing journeys. Later was open-mic night, where writers snacked on hors d’oeuvers and had the opportunity to read a few pages of their work to a captive and encouraging audience: their peers.
Friday was a full day. After opening remarks by Beth Bartlett, this year’s OCW president, writers had the opportunity to attend one of two sessions. Writer and editor Margo Dill covered the children’s market while blogger and publisher Dan Case of AWOC Publishing discussed blogging.
I attended the blogging session, and plenty of great information was addressed. Mr. Case covered the five elements of good blog posts (headlines, hooks, word count, photos, and conclusions) and emphasized that above all else, content is key. He offered examples, answered questions, and proffered advice for the blogging writer, novice to expert. He also suggested some resources for blogging and obtaining stock photos.
After the break, author and teacher Pat Carr covered writing love scenes. (Not sex scenes. Love scenes.) She discussed the twelve steps of intimacy and the importance of them occurring in order, followed by the five scenes that must be present in a novel or short story. When these scenes (meeting, conflict, admiration, affection, and climatic resolution) are written with proper pace, flow, and order, the story will be a success. She also offered ten scene descriptors that will enrich the setting, and therefore the story itself. The session concluded with a writing exercise, and some writers were brave enough to share their efforts. Their results, using techniques learned in session, were amazing, and covered romantic love, love between family members, and even love of special pets.
After lunch, there were again two sessions to choose from. Travel and western writer Johnny D. Boggs hosted a talk while marketing specialist Dianna Graveman of 2 Rivers Communications talked about public speaking and social media. I attended Ms. Graveman’s session and learned so much. She stressed that writers are business people and need to approach their careers that way. Providing value and being sought after is far more effective than the hard sell. She offered several options where writers could seek out public speaking engagements, from historical societies to continuing education programs. She also addressed several social media opportunities to garner speaking engagements, and offered invaluable tips on how to promote speaking events (reminding us that promotion should occur before, during, and after the engagement for full exposure).
After a quick break, Susan Swartwout, publisher at Southeast Missouri State University Press, gave a presentation on queries and rejections. She discussed the twelve items agents and editors look for in a query letter (everything from the hook to the marketing plan) and then moved on to the reasons for rejections. She offered twenty-one reasons why writers might be turned down, some being the writer’s responsibility (bad writing or not following guidelines) and some boiling down to fate (publisher maxed out on that topic or the printing schedule is booked). Dr. Swartwout’s talk was peppered with examples and she offered great advice.
The day ended with a presentation by Peggy Vining. Ms. Vining has been attending the OCW Conference since it began, and in 2003 was appointed Arkansas Poet Laureate by then Governor Mike Huckabee. Ms. Vining shared her love of poetry with the writers in her session. She believes it’s important to spread the love of words and form throughout the community.
Later that evening, Dusty Richards assumed a role he’s well known for. He served as the auctioneer at the first ever OCW Auction, where a good time was had by all.
Saturday began with keynote speaker, literary agent Jim Donovan, discussing a writer’s path to publication. He said a crucial question writers should be asking (but almost never do) is: How do I become a better writer? And he proceeded to answer that question with some great advice. Mr. Donovan gave six important steps which will help writers improve their craft:
- Read as a reader, to absorb what works in that genre.
- Read as a writer, and focus on specific elements (character, dialogue, pace, action, plot, setting).
- Read writing books to learn rules and technique.
- Write regularly.
- Join a good critique group.
- Revise, revise, revise.
He then discussed query letters and what agents and editors want in a manuscript. He ended his talk with a Q&A session.
After a break, writers were again given the option of two sessions. Writer and self-publishing guru Velda Brotherton held a workshop on preparing a document for Kindle while Pat Carr covered short story writing. As I am lucky enough to regularly benefit from Ms. Brotherton’s expertise (I’m a member of Northwest Arkansas Writers, a critique group run by Ms. Brotherton and Mr. Richards), I made the difficult decision and attended the short story session. Again Ms. Carr offered great advice. She said it is paramount to make a reader care about the characters, and gave five ways to make sure that readers care. Writers must show that the character:
- cares about others.
- is capable of love.
- is in jeopardy or danger.
- is doomed (but cannot whine about his fate).
- is vulnerable in some way.
She talked about the use of actions, emotions, dialogue, and scene descriptors, then ended with a writing exercise: write one scene resulting in an epiphany, portraying a strong emotion. It was a great exercise, and she seemed pleased with the results.
After lunch, keynote speaker and noted author Kevin Brockmeier shared three excerpts of his acclaimed works (there’s nothing like hearing an author read his own work, when you know the inflections and emotions are as the writer intended), then he answered questions. He talked about his writing process, discussed his characters and the messages he explores in his work, and offered a list of books and authors he loves to read.
There was a quick break, and then I had to make a difficult choice again. Ms. Graveman gave a talk on freelance editing, which I desperately wanted to attend, but opposite her was the editors’ panel. I couldn’t walk away from a chance to pick the brains of not one, but seven, experts in the field.
The panel consisted of publishers Lou Turner, Susan Swartwout, and Dan Case; editors Delois McGrew, Margo Dill, and Lonnie Whitaker; and agent Jim Donovan. Questions covered several topics, from contract language to editing rates. All too soon the session was over. I’m sure we could have peppered them for information all day.
The conference “proper” ended with a toot-your-own-horn segment, where people could talk about their achievements. It seems every year people have more to celebrate, so we must all be improving. That’s just proof that the conference was again a success.
That evening was the concluding dinner and awards banquet. I’ll be posting my awards soon on my Awards link, or you can check out all the winners on the OCW site. So many talented writers were acknowledged that evening, and we had a lot of fun. This year, I met up with old friends, made new friends, and learned a lot. I can’t wait until next year when I can do it all again! Hope to see some of you there.