Julie McDonald commentary: Learn to write fiction and nonfiction at writers’ conference


Do you want to write your memoirs? Are fictional characters running around in your head, begging for you to tell their story? Do you have a love story pining for release? Did you experience a chapter in life that would make a good piece for Chicken Soup for the Soul? Do you want to write for local publications? 

Anyone interested in connecting with local writers and learning from published authors throughout the Pacific Northwest should consider registering for the all-volunteer-run Southwest Washington Writers Conference at Centralia College the weekend after Labor Day. All proceeds from the nonprofit conference benefit scholarships offered through the Centralia College Foundation. Each day, writers will receive a scrumptious lunch from Dawn’s Delectables.

Writers can select from among 24 workshops on Saturday, Sept. 9, and those who want more intensive training can register for the Friday master class on editing manuscripts and earning a paycheck writing for newspapers and magazines. To make that easier, we’ve invited two local editors, Eric Schwartz of The Chronicle and Krysta Carper of Lewis Talk and Thurston Talk, to meet with writers and discuss how freelancers can submit work for publication.

We’re lucky a well-known romantic suspense author opted to move from Texas to Centralia a few years ago because Elizabeth Goddard, who has published 60 novels and sold more than 1.5 million copies, will keynote the conference this year. At the Saturday conference, Goddard, a USA Today bestselling and award-winning author, will share her journey to publishing success during the keynote and then teach two workshops — “The Well-Trained Author: Supercharge Your Brain to Generate Great Ideas” and “You Need Killer Instincts to Write Romantic Suspense.” Goddard and her husband, Dan, who is the pastor at Centralia Open Bible Church, have four adult children.

Literary agent Scott Eagan of Greyhaus Literary Agency in the Tacoma area will share what agents seek in query letters and proposals before agreeing to represent an author. He’ll also meet with writers of women’s fiction and traditional romance who want to pitch novels to him.

Local author Gretchen Staebler, a longtime blogger whose memoir “Mother Lode: Confessions of a Reluctant Caregiver” has raked in awards, will teach about capturing the stories of your life in “Where Are You From? Writing About the Past for the Future.” She also self-published a large book of her family’s World War II letters and experiences. And Valerie Ihsan, an author and book coach from the Willamette Valley, will teach about “Finding the Core Message of Your Memoir” with a compelling take-away for readers.

Jan Bono, who lives on the Long Beach Peninsula, has had nearly 60 stories accepted for publication in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, putting her in the publication’s top five contributors worldwide. She’ll share tips on writing successful short stories in “Writing for Chicken Soup for the Soul.”

Award-winning author Melanie Dobson of Sherwood, Oregon, who has authored nearly 30 novels, will teach “From Spark to Story,” outlining eight major elements needed to develop a novel that engages and inspires readers. Seattle middle grade author Sonja Anderson will teach “Nancy Drew Helps You Solve the ‘Mystery of the Children’s Publishing Gatekeepers,” and Woodland writer Alan E. Rose will teach about “Grand Openings: Creating a Memorable Introduction to Your Story World.”

Another award-winning fiction writer, Christina Suzann Nelson of the Eugene area, who has written six novels, will teach two workshops — one on creating distinct points of view, “Multiple POV: Defining Character Voice,” and another on “Having Marketing Plan Before Your Book Releases.” Other marketing workshops will focus on “Book Marketing & Social Media,” taught by Nell Stamper, of Astoria, founder and owner of Sea Change Wordcraft Services, and “Potent PR Secrets to Help Sell Books & Services” by Julie Bonn Blank, an author who works in an Abuse Recovery Ministry and serves as president of Oregon Christian Writers. Tacoma-area writer Judy Gann, a retired librarian for Library Insider™, will teach on “Marketing to Public Libraries: An Untapped Market.”

Sue Fagalde Lick, a writer on the Oregon Coast, will teach two workshops, “What Makes Creative Nonfiction ‘Creative?’” and “Messy First Draft to Polished Manuscript.” So will Lindsay Schopfer of Olympia, who teaches writing at Centralia College and South Puget Sound Community College. His workshops are “Understanding Narrative Flow” and “Unlocking Character Motivation.” Tenino’s Connie Jasperson will teach “Heroes and Villains: Who Are They and Why Should We Care?” and Clare Lilliston, a Seattle writer and editor, will focus on “Flash Fiction, Prose Poems, and Micro Memoirs: Writing in Miniature.” Joshua Mohr, another Seattle author, will teach on “Plaracterization: The Kiss Between Plot & Character.” And Vancouver’s Jon Drury will teach a workshop on “Making Audiobooks: Reaching Ears and Hearts.”

Melissa Hart, a Willamette Valley writer, will teach two workshops on Saturday — “The Art of the Query Letter: How to Wow Editors and Literary Agents with a Single Page” and “Biplanes, Juggling Clubs and My Naked Great-Grandmother: How You, Too, Can Turn Historical Research into a Celebration.”

She will also teach a master class on Friday afternoon, “Build your Platform & Earn a Paycheck: How to Write Personal Essays for Magazines & Newspapers” while Ihsan will teach the morning session on how to “Transform Your Manuscript from Boring to Bad*ss.”

The conference, which begins at 9 a.m. each day, is sponsored by Centralia’s Gorham Printing and features a bookstore both Friday and Saturday operated by Book ’N’ Brush in Chehalis. To register, visit www.southwestwashingtonwriters.com.


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