Uncategorized, Writing and Editing

Lineup Set For South Coast Writers Conference

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know how much I value the experience of attending a writers conference. There is quite frankly nothing you can do that better rekindles one’s enthusiasm and optimism than spending a few days surrounded by people who are struggling with the exact same battles you are.

I came to this belief after a close friend talked (badgered, nagged, wheedled) me into attending a small conference in my home town, the South Coast Writers Conference. I was so transformed by the experience that I volunteered to be part of the conference planning committee. I have been a part of that committee for more than ten years.

With no further ado, as part of the planning committee, I am pleased to announce the lineup of presenters for:

20th South Coast Writing Conference

The lineup is set for the 20th annual South Coast Writer’s Conference, in Gold Beach, Oregon. The conference is held every year on Presidents’ Day weekend, (February 12 and 13 this year) and provides the opportunity to devote a long weekend to writing and enjoying the natural beauty of the southern Oregon coast.

The South Coast Writers Conference is an eclectic gathering of writers in every genre and every level of expertise and features some of the American Northwest’s best writers holding workshops to share, explore, and celebrate every form of writing.

Workshop presenters this year are: Jason Brick, Barri Chase, Peter Brown Hoffmeister, Anne Osterlund, Bruce Holland Rogers, Heidi Schulz, Eric Witchey, Carolyne Wright, and Miriam Gershow. They will be joined by songwriters Kate Power and Steve Einhorn.

Workshops are scheduled to begin on Friday, February 12, with participants selecting one of three day-long seminars. Workshops continue Saturday, February 13, with twenty, ninety-minute workshops offered over four time slots throughout the day.

The fee for the Friday workshop alone is $55.00. The fee for the Saturday workshops alone is $60.00. The fee for both Friday and Saturday workshops is $115.00. Early registration is encouraged to secure a seat in participants’ desired workshop.

More information on the conference and the workshops offered this year can be found on the conference website: http://www.socc.edu/scwriters.

Writing advice

Notes on Dialogue, Part One

Last week I mentioned that I would be spending the weekend at the South Coast Writers Conference, gathering material and, I hope, learning some new skills and brushing up some old ones. Now I can truthfully say I am not disappointed. It is always an amazing experience, learning new things, meeting fellow writers and networking. Though it took a couple of days to recover I am now refreshed and have a new enthusiasm for the craft.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. I can’t emphasize this enough. If you have the opportunity to attend a writers conference, by all means, do. You will not regret it.

So now, to business.

On Friday, I attended a full-day workshop on dialogue. For a writer of fiction, one must above all be a master of dialogue. Many thanks to Tess Thompson, author of Blue Midnight and many more romantic suspense titles for helping us brush up on this skill.

Without further ado: Notes on Dialogue.

Three types of dialogue.

Summarized: the conversation is condensed and simplified. Lowest dramatic action.

Example: At home in the first few months, he and Maizie had talked brightly about changes that would make the company more profitable and more attractive to a prospective buyer: new cuts, new packaging, new advertising, new incentives to make supermarkets carry the brand.

Joan Wickersham “Commuter Marriage”

Indirect Speech: carries the feel of conversation without quotation. Medium dramatic action.

Example: Had he brought the coffee? She had been waiting all day long for coffee. They had forgot it when they ordered at the store the first day.

God, no, he hadn’t. Lord, now he’d have to go back. Yes, he would if it killed him. He thought, though, he had everything else. She reminded him it was only because he didn’t drink coffee himself. If he did he would remember it quick enough.

Katherine Anne Porter “Rope”

Direct Quotation: the exchange is quoted as it happens. Highest dramatic action.


“But I thought you hardly knew her, Mr. Morning.”
He picked up a pencil and began to doodle on a notebook page. “Did I tell you that?”
“Yes, you did.”
“It’s true. I didn’t know her well.”
“What is it you’re after, then? Who was this person you’re investigating?”
“I would like to know that too.”

Siri Hustvedt “Mr. Morning”

The Four Functions of Dialogue

To help reveal and express characterization

This is what most of us associate with dialogue.


“So I talked to Johnson,” Parish said. “He says go ahead. But if it blows up in our faces, it’s our asses.”
“Figures. Plausible deniability.”

The author of this passage has one character give a summary of another conversation to advance the plot. (They received conditional permission from their boss).

Sets the Scene

“We didn’t know no one was up here. We thought hit a summer camp all closed up. Curtains all closed up. Nothing here. No cars or gear, not nothing. Looks closed to me, don’t hit to you, J.J.?”

Joy Williams “Woods”

Reading just the above passage, we can make assumptions about where the story is taking place and much about the characters involved, all in two short, heavily-loaded lines.

Advances the action

“The surgeon will speak to you,” says the Radiologist.
“Are you finding something?”
“The surgeon will speak to you,” the Radiologist says again. “There seems to be something there, but the surgeon will talk to you about it.”
“My uncle once had something on his kidney,” says the Mother. “So they removed the kidney and it turned out the something was benign.”
The Radiologist smiles a broad, ominous smile. “That’s always the way it is,” he says. “You don’t know exactly what it is until it’s in the bucket.”
“The bucket,” the Mother repeats.
“That’s doctor talk,” the Radiologist says.
“It’s very appealing,” says the Mother. “It’s a very appealing way to talk.”

Lorrie Moore “People Like That Are The Only People Here”

In this passage, the author lets us know that something bad is about to happen and demonstrates the character’s attitude toward the doctors and their jargon.

Read a passage of your own dialogue. It must do at least two of the four tasks listed. If it doesn’t, re-work or delete it.

Some General Principles:

Dialogue concentrates on characters feelings; narrative states the facts.

Every character should speak differently. Try switching the attribution between characters. If the dialogue still works, the dialogue is not defined well enough.

Every character’s speech changes depending on what audience she’s addressing. We do not speak the same way to our buddy on the softball team, as we do to our pastor, as we do to our boss at work.

Every character’s speech changes according to mood. He will not speak the same after his girlfriend agrees to marry him as he does after another day of fruitless job hunting.

So, that’s a brief overview of the principles of dialogue. Much of this we already knew, but a refresher course is always a good idea. Next week we’ll look at some of the more subtle aspects of creating killer dialogue.

writing, Writing advice, Writing and Editing

Registration Now Open For the South Coast Writers Conference

One of the many hats I am prone to wear (other than writer of fiction and blogger) is that of a member of the organizing committee of the South Coast Writers Conference, an annual event we hold in my hometown of Gold Beach, Oregon on the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend. It is in that role that I am pleased to announce the lineup for the 2015 Conference, February 13-14, 2015.

The Presenters are:

Kim Griswell (keynote):
Developmental editor of children’s books for Portable Press and former coordinating editor at Highlights for Children.


Hey, Kid! Have I got a Story for You!— the craft of narrative nonfiction.
It’s All About Character—characterization

Stevan Allred:
Author of A Simplified Map of the World.


Exploring Point of View—Friday intensive workshop
Dixon Ticonderoga—pencils as inspiration
Creating Convincing Characters Across Gender—characterization of those not like us.

Mark Bennion:
Teaches at Brigham Young University-Idaho. Author of two poetry collections: Psalm and Selah, and Forsythia.


Close Observation and Resonant Sources (twice)

Dan Berne:
Author of The Gods of Second Chances, his debut novel.


Market Trends You Need to know About
Build Your Marketing Plan

Mark Graham:
Musician who has performed at The Newport Folk Festival and The Prairie Home Companion.


Art of Satiric and Comic Song

Nina Kiriki Hoffman:
Stoker and Nebula Award winning author of fiction.


Find Magic in Your Own Backyard
Setting is Character is Setting

Elena Passarello:
Her debut collection Let Me Clear My Throat won the Independent Publishers Association Gold Medal for non-fiction and was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. She teaches at Oregon State University.


Research in Literary Prose
The Ol’ Collage Try
—collage story telling

Liz Prato:
The author of Baby’s On Fire: Stories.


Perfect Your First Two Pages—Friday intensive workshop
Master Your Point of View
The Ins and Outs of Publishing in Lit Journals

Jeffrey Schultz:
The author of the National Poetry Series Selection: What Ridiculous Things We Could Ask of Each Other. He is the Interim Director of the Creative Writing Program at Pepperdine University.


Voice, Personality, and Perspective
Metonymy and Experience
—alternate literary devices

Tess Thompson:
Bestselling author of romantic suspense.


Conquering Dialogue—Friday intensive workshop
Dialogue for Page-turning Fiction–(condensed version of the Friday workshop)

Once again, we have invited some of the best writers of the Pacific Northwest to guide you in an exploration and celebration of the many facets of writing. Participation in workshops is limited to 25 students for each of the three, intensive, Friday workshops and to 30 for the Saturday workshops. Participants are urged to register early to secure a seat in the workshops they want.

The South Coast Writers Conference. Gold Beach, Oregon, United States. Friday February 13, Saturday February 14, 2015.

For more information on the conference, contact the Gold Beach Center of Southwestern Oregon Community College at 541-247-2741 or visit the conference website at http://www.socc.edu/scwriters.

Writing advice

Writers’ Conferences

I admit I was late to appreciate the benefits of attending a writers’ conference. Part of this, I’m sure, was because I had finished my college education, which meant I’d taken nearly every writing class the University offered. What more, I felt, could I learn from a one or two hour workshop? I’d just spent more than four years studying the art of writing for several hours a week.

Little did I know.

Oh, I did attend a conference once outside of Portland, mainly because it let you reserve a time slot to pitch your work to a real life New York agent. I did, but nothing came of it. In hindsight, I was over-reaching. I was not yet good enough. But it was an experience.

I attended all the workshops for which I’d signed up, but didn’t get much out of them. They reminded me of freshman-level courses at the University. There was a lecture hall full of about a hundred students listening to someone lecture. There was no discussion, little in the way of question-and-answer, almost no engagement. I also didn’t know a soul there, and it just being a day or two, never saw anyone often enough to make a new friend.

My opinion of writer’s conferences largely reflected that experience: me wandering alone from workshop to workshop, passively listening to the lectures, but gaining little or no insight into what I was trying to learn.

I decided writers’ conferences were not for me. The expense was simply not worth the meager returns.

I was wrong. For ten years I was wrong.

Flash forward to 2006. I had just moved to a little town on the Oregon coast and, as fate would have it, this little town hosted a writer’s conference every winter. Still, I wasn’t interested. I didn’t like writers’ conferences. Remember?

However, a family member talked me into going just once. Am I glad she did? Absolutely. That weekend experience at the South Coast Writers’ Conference truly changed my writing life. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I became one of the cadre of volunteers that help organize and host it every year. I’ve been doing it ever since.

I was converted.

So what made this conference experience so different?

In a word: size. The South Coast Writer’s Conference is a small conference. It usually only hosts ten to twelve presenters and about a hundred-and-fifty participants. Instead of a lecture hall full of student writers listening to the presenter, most workshops consisted of fifteen to twenty students discussing the topics with a presenter. Students actually did exercises and discussed them with their colleagues.

I walked away from the weekend exhilarated and enthusiastic about the craft again. It was remarkable.

Ever since then, I’ve told anyone who asks (especially writers struggling to learn the craft and establish their careers) to by all means attend a conference. But choose carefully because different conferences offer different things. Not all conferences are the same. Like any business expense, you must decide whether the benefits are worth the expense.

Some of the larger conferences (such as the Maui Conference, or Willamette Writer’s Conference) can offer things the smaller conferences can’t, such as presenters who are wildly successful, household names, opportunities to meet one-on-one with agents and film producers, or to have your manuscript critiqued. These conferences, however, are relatively expensive (someone has to pay the higher speaking fees for the big name authors) and they are often so large that it’s difficult to get any personal attention.

The smaller conferences can’t attract or pay for the household-name writers, but they also are usually much less expensive. The presenters who do come are talented, perfectly good writers who just haven’t made it into the stratosphere of the best seller lists. Often, they are young authors who are on their way up. I’ve seen a presenter suddenly have a hugely successful book and become so much in demand that a small conference can no longer afford them.

But the biggest advantage the smaller conferences have is that you can receive much more personal attention. Attendees often chat with presenters over lunch and between workshops. Also, because the workshops are small, the attendees are often seeing the same faces in several workshops. Friendships are made. Connections forged.

And whichever conference you decide to attend, that is probably the most beneficial aspect of all of them. The knowledge that whatever challenges you might be facing in your writing career, there are others out there who know exactly how difficult it can be. Some of them even know how to overcome them.

Sure, the workshops might teach you a new way to handle point-of-view, or a promotional opportunity you weren’t aware of, but the most important thing any person who has chosen this maddening and often frustrating pursuit needs to have is a sense of belonging to a community. Writing is lonely enough without feeling you’re completely alone. Attending a writers’ conference can help with that.

So should you spend your hard-earned on the local writer’s conference? Absolutely.