Highlighting Lewis County: Bestselling YA Author Keynotes Centralia Conference


A keynote from a Wall Street Journal bestselling author of more than 30 novels. A master class taught by a writer who has sold 5 million copies of his books. A choice of 18 workshops by published authors in Washington and Oregon. Networking with other writers.

All this and more can be found Sept. 9 and 10 at the eighth annual Southwest Washington Writers Conference at Centralia College. All proceeds from the conference benefit scholarships offered through the Centralia College Foundation.

Keynoter of the nonprofit conference is Jeff Wheeler, an Idaho author of more than 30 young adult and fantasy novels that have sold more than 5 million copies.

At his Friday master class Sept. 9, Wheeler will teach “Worldbuilding 505: Stop Living in Your Head and Start Writing the First Chapter” and “The How of Creativity.” Writers will learn how to develop settings that become characters in the story using ingredients such as magic, politics, culture, geography, economics and religion and how to exploit the tension opportunities each brings to the table. He’ll also teach writers how to practice and develop creativity.

In the afternoon, a panel of both traditionally and independently published authors — Lindsay Schopfer of Olympia, Kyle Pratt, a sci-fi and post-apocalyptic author from Chehalis and romance writer Debby Lee of Centralia — will join Seattle’s Christopher Werner, editorial director at Brilliance Publishing, an Amazon company, to discuss “Bringing Your Stories to Life: The Ins and Outs of Publishing.”

On Saturday, Wheeler will present a keynote, “Your First Million Words.”

“I’ve discovered on my journey that I had to write and toss my first million words before I’d practiced the craft enough to be successful at it,” Wheeler said.

At Saturday’s conference, attendees can choose three from among 18 workshops taught by professional writers from throughout the Northwest. Topics address screenwriting, marketing, websites, historical fiction, novellas, memoirs, mystery, powerful prose, writing for anthologies, short stories and book covers.

Wheeler will present two workshops. In “The Five Questions (aka Wowing the Editorial Board),” he’ll teach how to make it easy for publishers and editors to say yes to your manuscript using five questions and answers that Jeff employs each time he pitches a book or series.

“Even if you are an indie author, knowing the answers to these questions can help improve the story before it’s even written,” he said.

His second workshop will focus on “Understanding Amazon,” the gorilla in today’s publishing world. He’ll help writers understand the indie publishing market, the difference between Kindle Direct and Kindle Unlimited, the way royalties are paid, and what it’s like to work for an Amazon Publishing imprint.

Bestselling author James D. Shipman, an Everett attorney and mediator, will teach “Historical Fiction Writing: Bringing the Past Alive.” A Union soldier fighting in the Civil War. A social worker helping Jewish children escape the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. Prisoners who lead a revolt at the Auschwitz concentration camp. These are all real characters brought to life through the pages of Shipman’s novels. In his workshop, he’ll discuss research methods, travel to historical locations, interviews with people who have historical knowledge and the historical novel creation process. 

Schopfer, award-winning author of four novels and a creative writing teacher at South Puget Sound Community College, will teach two workshops at Saturday’s conference: “Investing in Your Writing Career” and “From Body Language to Brawls.”

In his morning workshop, he’ll discuss how authors benefit from investing in the writing craft without breaking the bank, shopping around for freelancers and choosing promotional options.

His second workshop focuses on pacing, balancing character reactions and event descriptions and picking the best words to immerse readers into the story.

“Action scenes are some of the most exciting, intense moments in our stories, but they can be tricky to get right,” he said. “Too little detail and the reader won’t be invested; too much, and the action will be lost in a sea of unnecessary details.”

Julie Bonn Blank, an author, web designer and marketing professional from Forest Grove, Oregon, will teach two workshops — “Getting Your Books into the Amazon Top Ten Within Your Category” and “Building Your Platform with Your Best Website.” The first workshop will address pricing and promotions to help books compete well in the marketplace. In her second session, she’ll share the components authors need in their websites, platforms to avoid, creating the best websites affordably and how to draw traffic to your site.

Pamela J. Vincent, a speaker and author of 21 self-published books from Eagle Creek, Oregon, will teach two sessions — “Got a Film Idea? Screenwriting 101: The Basics” and “75 Ways to Sell Your Book Successfully.” During her first workshop, she’ll introduce writers to the film industry and how to push screenplays past first readers, formatting tips and tricks and the three-act structure.

During her afternoon workshop, “75 Ways to Sell Your Book Successfully,” Pamala will teach writers how to discover their niche, find where their readers hang out, and understand their readers’ needs to better reach them.

“You have to out-wit, out-play, out-last all the other books on the market,” she said.

Cozy mystery author, blogger, and podcaster Wendy Kendall of Edmonds, will teach two workshops — “Writing Novellas” and “The Art of Mystery.” She’ll discuss the structure of novellas, which are defined as short novels or long short stories, which publishers seek them, and how to market the shorter books.

“The novella is surging in popularity with publishers and readers,” she said. “We’ll also discuss the opportunities and challenges to the writing craft that novellas present.”

In her second workshop, she’ll teach how to build a better mystery, thriller or suspense novel. She’ll talk about different mystery genres and what ingredients are essential to a good mystery.

“It’s only one word, but it’s the most important word — why,” she said. “It drives the question all mystery readers want answered…. Answer this one question about your protagonist and antagonist and pave the way to deeper, richer and better writing.”

Award-winning Seattle poet, author and memoirist Carolyne Wright will teach “Bringing Lives to Life: The Alchemy of Memory.” During this interactive workshop, she’ll discuss exploring life experiences, journal entries, family history and reflections to write memoirs or develop the inner lives of fictional characters and provide each with a unique voice.

“Writers of all genres employ and transform memory in their work,” she said. “Through this creative alchemy, we will turn memories, observations, and insights into story, bringing lives to life through our writing. Our writing may be poetry or prose.”

Heidi Gaul, a nonfiction writer from Albany, Oregon, who has contributed to 11 “Chicken Soup for the Soul” anthologies and 10 “Guideposts” books, will teach “A Cup of Soup.” She’ll discuss skills necessary to write and successfully market a short and inspiring nonfiction piece. She’ll look at the importance of verb choices and word counts, the arc that will hold readers’ and editors’ interest and how to make a story more relatable to a large audience.

Castle Rock author and retired Lower Columbia College instructor Mary Stone will teach “Power Pack Your Prose.” She’ll discuss how word choice matters, strong verbs grab the attention of readers and kicking extraneous words to the curb improve writing.

“It works wonders for writers wanting to write tight and pack a punch,” she said.

Many readers do judge a book by its cover, so learn the “5 Keys to a Professional Book Cover Design” from experienced designer Olympia’s Kathy Campbell, who creates captivating covers for Gorham Printing in Centralia and operates a freelance graphic design company in Olympia. She’ll discuss how to design a professional, eye-catching cover and the five key elements crucial for a cover that sells books.

Alan E. Rose, an award-winning Woodland author of three novels and one novella, will teach “Plotting Techniques for the Beginning Writer: Finding the Story You Want to Tell, and then Deciding How Best to Tell It.” He’ll discuss the structure of stories, plotting to achieve desired effects and concepts, tools and techniques that help the writer find the story. He’ll discuss story spinning, plot playing, and scenic construction. He also coordinates WordFest Northwest, a monthly gathering of writers and readers in Southwest Washington.

Seattle writer Alle Hall will help writers of short fiction and nonfiction find a place to publish for a wider audience in “Get Published: How to Find a Home for Short Stories, Essays, Poetry, or KidLit.” She’ll discuss writing good query letters, finding journals that accept fictional and nonfiction short stories and poetry, tracking submissions and recovering from rejection.

“I published first in the kind of tiny magazines that only the subscribers and maybe their families read; then in more notable publications; and finally, internationally known journals and the all-sought-after book deal for a first literary novel — at the age of 57!” she said.

Finally, four independently published authors will present “What I Wish I had Known: Four Veterans of the Indie Trenches.” Ellen King Rice, Johanna Flynn, Lee French, all of Olympia, and Tenino’s Connie Jasperson will share writing tips and advice for authors in all stages of their careers, whether just starting out or old pros, indie or traditionally published. Topics include setting up business paperwork, selling online and in person, identifying potholes littering the marketing road and steering clear of the pitfalls in the business end of writing.

Rice has won awards for her ecological thrillers. French, owner and cofounder of Clockwork Dragon, an indie co-op and small press producing fantasy and science fiction anthologies, is a USA Today Bestselling author of more than 50 novels, novellas, and short stories. Flynn’s debut novel won the 2020 Nancy Pearl Award for Best Contemporary Fiction. Jasperson is a published poet, blogger and the author of nine fantasy novels whose work has appeared in many anthologies.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.