Every event we take part in touches us in some way, helping to shape us into who we are. Our experiences change us, sometimes in small ways, and sometimes in more drastic ways. We live, we learn, we transform, and always there is movement and growth. Certainly, the 2018 Writing the Rockies Conference was one such inspirational event, although there were so many offerings, it would be impossible for me to touch on them all. The offerings which I did get to attend were very informative and inspirational.
During the welcome reception, the program director, Dr. David Rothman, talked about what it is that makes the Writing the Rockies Conference stand out among other writing conferences. Certainly, the fact that it leans heavily toward the academic aspects of writing should be counted toward the top of the list. Not that the writings explored are all academic in nature, but the intention is to educate us in how to tap our inner creativity and allow it to flow out onto the page. And every year that I have attended the conference, like everything else in life, it changes and grows.
The Writing the Rockies Conference has expanded considerably since I first attended in 2012, and has even grown some since I last attended in 2016.In addition to the great panels and single day workshops, and their outstanding poetry symposium, which are offered every year, the 2018 line-up included an opera performance and workshop, three-day intensive workshops and seminars in all five concentrations, (creative nonfiction, genre fiction, poetry, screenwriting and publishing), which are available for an additional fee. And as usual, there were opportunities to sign up for pitch sessions and manuscript critiques, and social events such as Coffee with the Pros, where you have the chance to chat with professionals from the industry, both student and professional readings, as well as open mic events and a full day’s schedule of nature hikes in the Gunnison Valley, (one more thing which makes this Conference unique). While attending, there were also opportunities to attend a special presentation of Comedy is Hard by Mike Reiss and a one man play, Multitudes: An Evening with Walt Whitman by Kim Nuzzo, both public performances which coincided with Conference dates.
In his Keynote, author, poet and educator, Mark Todd discussed Writing From the Edge of Nowhere, and why so many writers sprout from Colorado or are drawn to Colorado as a backdrop. Certainly, the breath taking scenery attracts the attention of writers and many have tried to capture the beauty of the Colorado landscape with their words. There are some who haven’t done a bad job of it. As a native Colorado author who made historic Colorado my setting in Delilah, I can tell you that the love for the landscape draws you and for westerns, the landscape plays a big part.
The publishing panel, moderated by Kevin J. Anderson, who has been traditionally published for many years and has founded his own WordFire Press with his wife Rebecca, was enlightening for me. As I’d been wondering if my own publisher was being fair with me. I learned what you should be able to expect from a small press publisher, and found that although perhaps my communication with my own publisher could be better, they are probably giving me a pretty fair deal in today’s market. Their panel also made me reconsider my own plans for publishing The Great Primordial Battle, which is book 1 of my Playground for the Gods science fantasy series. It’s been sitting on the virtual shelf after many rejections, and I was planning to self-publish it when it comes back from my beta reader, but now I’m thinking perhaps I should give traditional publishing one more shot before I go that route.
I had the honor of sitting on the alumni panel for Western’s Graduate Program for Creative Writing, which offered the chance for panel members to toot their own horns about their individual successes and tout praises for the M.F.A. in Creative Writing program. On the panel with me were my fellow alumni, Chris Barili, Susan Spear and moderator, Steve Visel.
Although I did not purchase a meal card, I heard high praise for the conference cuisine, well worth the additional charge. The welcome dinner and ceremonies, featured delectable appetizers, a main course of stuffed peppers or mushroom chicken and all the accompaniments, and mouth-watering fruit pies for desert. All was well prepared and attractively presented by Western State Colorado College.
The one thing I was disappointed with was that I didn’t get to do the book signing I had anticipated due to scheduling conflicts. But at Writing the Rockies they are always looking for ways to improve their program, so I can always hope that next year things will be scheduled better. Over all it was a great conference and I look forward to watching it grow and develop in the future.
When I attended my first Writing the Rockies Conference at Western State Colorado University, back in 2012, it was a three day event, with panels and workshops on genre fiction, screenwriting, and poetry. It had a couple of publishing workshops, too, but the poetry symposium was a major event. You could sign up for critiques and pitch sessions with small presses and agents, and they served delicious sack lunches made by Western State’s great kitchen staff. Every year since, the conference has gotten bigger, including more and more great events for authors, poets, screenwriters and publishers future.
The 2016 Writing the Rockies Conference has continued in that growth trend. Director of Western State’s M.F.A. in Creative Writing program and head organizer of the conference, David J. Rothman tells us that Writing the Rockies is now the most diverse of all college hosted writing conferences, boasting writing workshops, keynotes and panels, 3-day intensive workshops and critical seminars in five individual concentrations: genre fiction, screenwriting, creative nonfiction, publishing, in addition to their wonderful poetry symposium. It is now five day event, which takes advantage of inspirational surroundings of the beautiful Gunnison Valley, with one whole day for group hikes in the beautiful area surrounding near-by Crested Butte. Gone are the sack lunches of the past, but the food is still good, with Western’s kitchen staff providing both breakfast and lunch for conference attendees.
The conference is so packed full of wonderful writing events and opportunities that no one can do them all. Aspiring writers must pick and choose those events that will be most beneficial to them. I had the pleasure of attending events in all five concentrations, creating a well-rounded educational experience, from which I learned a lot.
I started off with the genre fiction panel, which featured three former presidents of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America – authors James Gunn, Robin Wayne Bailey and Russell Davis gave a grand overview of the history of SFWA and the science fiction genre. I was also privileged to attend the screenwriting panel, featuring screenwriters for both feature films and television – J.D. Payne, Alan Wartes and J.S. Mayank, where we discussed how to take notes on your screenplay or series, who to take notes from, and ways to politely disregard notes that are detrimental to the structure of your script.
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend Conference Keynote, by George Sibley, or the Poetry Keynote, by Julie Kane on Wednesday evening. If they were anywhere near the quality and usefulness of the four Keynotes I did hear, then I have truly missed out.
Fulcrum Press Editor Rebecca McEwen
Publishing Keynote Speaker
The Publishing Keynote was given by Fulcrum Press editor, Rebecca McEwen, who talked about the value of small presses and when you might want to consider submitting press that is not among the big five. According to McEwen, there are currently 30 small independent publishers in Colorado.
Author Robin Wayne Bailey
Genre Fiction Keynote Speaker
The Creative Nonfiction Keynote was delivered by author Broughton Coburn, who has created story from many of the events in his extraordinary life and turned them into bestselling books. His touching story of bringing an elderly Indian woman to America with him, brought smiles to all faces in the audience. He talked about finding common threads in your true-life story which can then be used to tie things together as you put the story on the page.
Author Broughton Coburn
Creative Nonfiction Keynote Speaker
Author Robin Wayne Bailey, gave an inspiring Genre Fiction Keynote on the importance of life experience in writing, and how moving writing can be, coming near to tears himself as he spoke of times past as he recounted parts of his own personal history for emphasis. And, there were chuckles from the audience throughout screenwriter J.D. Payne’s Screenwriting Keynote on the journey to becoming a screenwriter, ways to handle the criticism and rejection that are so very prominent in the Industry, and how to take notes, another big part of writing for television or film.
Screenwriter J.D. Payne
Screenwriting Keynote Speaker
I attended a genre fiction workshop and two screenwriting workshops, since these are my major concentrations. The first screenwriting workshop, led by screenwriter, Mary Beth Fielder, was on the transformational arc that every story and every major character needs to have. She talked about looking at the subtext to indicate what’s really going on in each scene, and how to use basic human needs to determine what your characters goals are.
The second screenwriting workshop, on creating conflict, was led by screenwriter J.S. Mayank, pointing out that in story we do the opposite of what we do in real life. In real life, we tend to avoid conflict, while in story we invite it. To provide examples of scenes with well-crafted conflict, video clips from several different movies were shown, some that made us laugh, others that made us want to cry.
J.D. Payne, J. S. Mayank, and Alan Wartse
Screenwriting Panel at the
2016 Writing the Rockies Conference
The genre fiction workshop, on creating complex female characters, led by women’s fiction author Candace Nadon. She talked about the female stereotypes used in creating female characters, and ways to recognize and avoid them in your writing. Most of her advice for creating strong female characters, was in the form of what not to do, proving that there is a fine line to balance strength and feminity.
Screenwriter and co-organizer of the Crested Butte Film Festival, Michael Body was both educational and entertaining in his screening lecture. He used actual clips submitted to the festival for consideration. Two of the clips were humorous, but the other one was just plain bad, illustrating well the many reasons films do, or don’t get into film festivals. The bad one was so bad that the audience elected not to finish watching it.
Screenwriter Michael Brody
Co-Founder of The Crested Butte Film Festival
Along with everything else, the talent featured at the Writing the Rockies Conference also grows each year. In addition to the genre fiction and screenwriting names above, this year’s poetry symposium featured were renowned poets and critics, such as A.M. Juster, Jan Schreiber, John Talbot, Bruce Bennett, Christopher Norris, Emily Grosholz, Thomas Cable, Paul Edwards, Natalie Gerber, Niles Ritter, Frederick Turner, Richard Wakefield, and Robert Maranto.
Of the thirty publishers in Colorado today, at least seven were represented at the 2016 Writing the Rockies Conference: Conundrum Press Publisher, Caleb Seeling; Fulcrum Press editor, Rebecca McEwen; Slant News editor, Kyle Harvey; Dave Trendler, of VeloPress; Fred Ramey of Unbridled Books; Lithic Press Publisher, Danny Rosen; and Senior Acquisitions Editor of NavPress, David Zimmerman.
Creative Nonfiction is a new concentration which was added this year, featuring award-winning author, Kase Johnstun; essayist, Kelsey Bennett; and nature writer, Alissa Johnson. Genre fiction authors not mentioned above included Clay Reynolds; children’s author, Stacia Deutsch; and speculative fiction author, Michaela Roessner.
The 2016 Writing the Rockies Conference appeared to be a great success. It holds many opportunities for aspiring writers, and 2017 promises to have e1ven more, becoming larger and more prestigious than ever before. I anticipate 2017 conference attendees will have quite a treat in store.
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