Poconos Writers’ Conference 2017

I had the pleasure of attending the 4th Annual Poconos Writers Conference over the weekend. I love conferences because no matter what your level of writing, you can never (and should never) stop learning. Sponsored by writer and attorney Michael Ventrella and the Poconos Liars Club, this one-day writing event featured three writers and one agent who gave excellent talks on craft and publication.

Michael Ventrella kicked off the conference with his talk “The Biggest Mistakes Made by New Authors.” Some great advice included treating your writing like a job in terms of dedicating your time and learning the business, finishing your work, and his secret to success (exclusive to attendees only, I’m afraid). I jest, but he did emphasize the importance of talent, hard work, and networking.

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Michael Ventrella

Next up was agent Alia Hanna Habib from McCormick Literary who presented on query letters and knowing your genre (with examples of what works and what doesn’t). Every time I go to a talk on query letters I learn something new and this was no exception. Alia’s experience was invaluable (and funny). Highlights included ensuring your query reads something like jacket copy, know to whom you are submitting and, of course, read the submissions guidelines.

After lunch, romance writer Megan Hart spoke on Point of View. She provided clear instruction on each type of point of view. I think my greatest takeaway here was the emphasis on how point of view not only controls what we the readers know, it gives the reader information as the character sees it. Each character is the hero of her or his own story, which affects how they tell the story.

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Romance Author Megan Hart

Dark fantasy author Rob E. Boley wrapped up the speaker line up with his presentation on Worldbuilding, which, as he points out, is integral for all genres, not just speculative fiction. Rob asked members of the audience what they thought worldbuilding included and the responses were phenomenal. Many volunteered answers but then made connections with how that aspect (say, currency) would affect the world and the way characters interact. Rob emphasized that your world must serve the story. Coincidences that screw the characters are acceptable. Those that help are not. There are no silos – different aspects of the world affect other aspects (just like the real world!). Do not cast brushstrokes and don’t see everything in black and white.

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Dark Fantasy Author Rob E. Boley

The audience participation really energized the crowd for the final session – a Q&A panel with the authors where we discussed marketing, networking, and being yourself on social media (please, no non-stop promo tweets!) and at writing events. In the end, sell yourself as much as your work, but be real.

Highly recommended conference, especially if you’ve never attended one and might be feeling overwhelmed at the thought of a large, multi-day event.

PS Huge shout out to the Eastern Monroe Public Library for hosting the event. Support your local library!

PPS I might have bought some books…

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Be Brave in 2017

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

2016 wasn’t a bad year. It was a challenging year, for sure.

We lost many beloved celebrities, some very unexpectedly, as well as several scientist pioneers. The war in Syria broke our hearts and underscored the powerlessness we feel when governments decide that war is the only solution and the civilians suffer. We all felt the shocks from a contentious presidential election, whose aftershocks will still be felt for many years I expect. Many of us are living with problems wrought because corporations have been allowed to overrule common decency (how many people lost their pensions this year? How many people work over 40 hours and still do not make a livable wage?) and environmental safeguards (Flint, MI; Standing Rock). And yet, there were many positive things.

Quartz posted an article listing the best 99 things that happened in 2016, a list which contains cute pandas and eradication of ebola. Progress on environmental issues has been made in several countries around the world, despite the climate change deniers (for the record, climate change is more than global warning and is not a linear progression of events!).

Life is about the good and the bad, the ups and the downs. Not to sound sophomoric, but it’s good to remember:

  • Nothing good or bad lasts forever.
  • It’s okay to mourn a celebrity. That means that something in their body of work touched you. Don’t let anyone shame you because you shed a tear or two.
  • But…death comes for all of us (unless you’re Keith Richards. There can only be one, after all). Remember to celebrate the life and the joy as well
  • …and, cherish the time you have with the people you love
  • Go out into the world and be brave. Be brave in big ways (speak out against injustice even when people call you the special snowflake), be brave in little ways (treat the homeless person with respect and dignity even when someone says your change will only go to drugs or alcohol)
  • judge less, love more
  • love your body and nourish it with good food and exercise

Above all, keep hope in your heart. Hope that bigotry, hatred, and ignorance will not win the day, not in our politics, not for the earth, and not for the people struggling each day in whatever country. And with hope the courage to take a stand and work for a better future.

Peace my friends.