Roanoke Regional Writers Conference – Part One

Yes, this writers conference was two weeks ago, but when a cold puts you low, low you are. This small, regional conference was such a positive experience, I decided to rise from my sickbed and finally give it its due.

Okay, that was way dramatic–too much Downton Abbey. Being sick meant I watched all three seasons in two days, so I’m overly influenced.

The Roanoke Regional Writers Conference had been planned for the final weekend of January, but a snowpacalypse (which never arrived) forced a one-week postponement. So, we gathered the evening of February 1 for a writer meet-and-greet. You know, this is where you approach, or are approached by, complete strangers with the question, “What do you write?”

An aside here–I was almost the only attendee NOT writing YA paranormal romance. There may or may not be a lesson in that.

After the meet-and-greet and some great writerly conversations, we had the opening session for the Sixth Annual Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, the fifth sell-out in a row. Hollins University, whose writing program has earned it the nickname “Pulitzer U,” was the host, and probably the most encouraging words came from Hollins’ current Writer in Residence, Karen Osborn (author of Centerville), who spoke on “Working in a Changing Publishing Environment.”

Osborn said, “Getting published has always been difficult, but failure to publish is not a marker of your work’s value.” And after that garnered a loud round of applause, she added, “Publishers are most interested in selling books, but they seldom know what will actually sell.” She reminded us that traditional publishers are focused on the bottom line, but she didn’t discourage. “If your agent won’t send out your book, send it out yourself,” she advised and emphasized university and small presses. Osborn believes we have more options than ever before for publication, ones which allow us to take more control of our work, but, she said, “Believing in the work is the most important step.”

The evening’s keynote address came from Kathy Grissom, author of The Kitchen House, and her topic was “Becoming a Writer.” Grissom was a perfect candidate for this topic because, as she admitted, she never intended to become a writer. “Writing,” she said, “was something only extraordinary people could do.” She learned through inspiration that writers are “ordinary people who write extraordinary things.” Grissom outlined her writer’s journey, from poetry and journaling to being inspired by an unusual event in her life. The inspiration led to research, and a chance conversation with her father led her to a “story I knew I had to tell.” The result was The Kitchen House, a novel about a young Irish orphan who finds her real family among the slaves of a southern plantation. Now, Grissom says, “My job is writing.”

We were treated to a song written by Greg Trafidlo especially for the conference, and the chorus said it all, “You have to sit on your butt and write.” We also participated in the presentation of scholarships from Hollins to “non-traditional” students, women who have returned to school after a break for marriage or children. The Horizon scholarships are funded by the faculty for the conference, who forego being paid to endow the scholarships. Applicants have to write an essay on why they want to return to school, and the scholarships are billed as “recognition of writers by writers.” The recipients are students in Hollins’ writing program, and this was an uplifting way to end an evening of writerly discourse.

Next Post – Day Two–Down to the Nitty Gritty

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