Julie McDonald: September weekend features writers’ conference and AAUW fundraiser


I missed perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view the Northern Lights from my backyard on Friday night, but I certainly enjoyed seeing all the gorgeous photos posted online.

My friend Sandra Crowell, author of The Land Called Lewis, and I spent Friday evening surrounded by city lights in Bellevue as we prepared for Saturday’s Seattle Writing Workshop, an all-day event with several hundred writers and more than a dozen literary agents. When it comes to viewing stars, planets and northern lights, rural skies beat city lights every time.

Fortunately, we won’t need to travel nearly as far for the 10th Annual Southwest Washington Writers Conference at Centralia College in early September.

Thanks to connections by David Hartz at Book ‘N’ Brush, we booked internationally bestselling Seattle author Garth Stein as keynote speaker at the Sept. 7 conference. Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain, which has sold more than 6 million copies and been turned into a movie starring Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried and Kevin Costner as Enzo the golden retriever. Stein, who co-founded the Seattle7Writers nonprofit collective, has written three other novels and produced and directed award-winning documentaries and music videos. He has won many literary awards, including two Pacific Northwest Book Awards. In addition to his keynote address, the World According to Garth, Stein will teach a workshop, “It’s All About the Rock,” delving into the writer’s role in creating a novel.

And thanks to Jan Leth with the Lewis County American Association of University Women (AAUW) chapter, we’ll have a Friday master class taught Sept. 6 by Libbie Grant, a Washington Post bestselling author of historical fiction who writes under the name Olivia Hawker. Her book, One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow, was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award and Willa Award. It has nearly 32,000 primarily five-star reviews on Amazon, while The Ragged Edge of Night has more than 40,000 five-star reviews. She’s written four other well-received novels as well. She will teach two three-hour workshops on Friday — “Take Off Your Pants: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing” and “How to Write a Bestseller.” (The first workshop refers to what the literary world refers to as seat-of-the-pants writers as opposed to outliners.)

On Friday night, the Lewis County chapter of the AAUW will host an Evening with Authors featuring both Stein and Hawker sitting down and answering questions posed by Centralia College English instructor and memoir writer Matthew Young. The event, which will feature refreshments, baskets for auction items and book signings by authors, costs $20 admission ($15 for students). All proceeds from the event benefit Hope Alliance, a domestic abuse treatment center.

Early registration for the writers’ conference, which features a selection of 24 workshops, opened last week. All proceeds from the conference benefit scholarships awarded by the Centralia College Foundation.

Workshop presenters will be driving from as far south as Eugene, Oregon, and from as far northeast as Inchelium on the Colville Confederated Indian Reservation to teach. Also at the conference, writers can speak with Eric Schwartz, editor of The Chronicle, and Krysta Carper, editor and publisher of LewisTalk and ThurstonTalk, about freelance writing opportunities.

Among the workshop presenters is Christina Suzann Nelson of Philomath, Oregon, a Christy award-winning author of six novels, including More Than We Remember, What Happens Next, and The Way It Should Be. She will teach the general audience how to “Hook Them from the Start: First Line to First Page to First Chapter.” And, as the mother of six children, she’ll teach a workshop on “The Writing Parent: Finding Time to Pursue Your Dream.”

Craig Allen Heath, of Longview, an award-winning poet, playwright, historical reenactor and author of Where You Will Die, will teach a public speaking workshop, “The Author Acts: Give Stage-Worthy Readings of Your Fiction.” He is finishing his second novel, Killing Buddhas.

Linda L. Kruschke, of Lake Oswego, Oregon, a fearless poet, candid memoirist and author of nonfiction articles, will teach two workshops: “The Path to Publication: Don’t Despise Small Beginnings” and “Unlocking the Secret of ‘Show, Don’t Tell.’” She is the editor of Swallow’s Nest, a poetry book, and director of the Cascade Christian Writing Contest.

Mary Stone, of Castle Rock, who worked more than three decades at Lower Columbia College as a teacher and counselor, will teach workshops on “Character Development” and “Sensible Senses.” She is author of Run in the Path of Peace — the Secret of Being Content No Matter What as well as a middle grade novel, devotional books, and a short story collection, The Innocents at Home — Children of the 1940s.

Jennifer Anne F. Messing, of Portland, an award-winning poet and author of four books, including Love’s Faithful Promise, which won the American Fiction Award, will teach “Prolific Publishing in Magazines Midst a Busy Life.” She has had more than 250 short stories, articles and poems published.

Literary agent Scott Eagan of Greyhaus Literary in Puyallup, which represents authors of traditional romance and women’s fiction, will teach about “What Agents Really Want.” Scott, who teaches publishing with the UCLA Extension Program, listened to writers pitch their manuscripts to him in Bellevue on Saturday. He said he’s happy to answer questions from any writers at September’s Centralia conference.

Erick Mertz, of Oregon City, Oregon, a ghostwriter and freelance editor who cochaired the 2019 Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, is the author of the Strange Air series of paranormal mysteries set in the Pacific Northwest. He will teach “Self-Publishing Success: What Worked, What Didn’t, What I’d Do Differently.”

Carmen Peone, an award-winning author of young adult and contemporary western romantic suspense, has lived with her husband on the Colville reservation since 1988, where she raised their children. Her husband, children and grandchildren are all enrolled tribal members. She will teach two workshops—“Creating Authentic Native American Characters” and “The One Time Emotions Need to Take Control.”

Miriam Gershow of Eugene is a novelist and author of short stories, flash fiction and creative nonfiction. Her books include The Local News and Survival Tips: Stories and her novel, Closer, will be published in 2025. She’ll teach two workshops — “The Joy of Flash: How Short Writing Can Jumpstart Your Creative Practice” and “Big Press? Small Press? Agent? Agent-free? Figuring Out the Questions — and Answers — to Your Publishing Path.”

A former Silicon Valley software engineer,Curtis C. Chen, of Vancouver, writes stories and runs puzzle games near Portland. He’s the author of the Kangaroo series of funny science fiction spy thrillers, including Waypoint Kangaroo and Kangaroo Too. He’s also written for podcasts. He’ll teach about “Query Letters That Work.”

Shannon Blood, of Olympia, the published author of poetry, short stories, articles and essays as well as technical policy papers and curriculum for the State of Washington, will teach a workshop called “Don’t Stay Stuck: Get Short! Using Haiku to Tease Apart Our Sometimes-Tangled Webs.”

Tracy Cram Perkins, of Gig Harbor, is the author of Dementia Home Care: How to Prepare Before, During, and After, which won the 2022 Chanticleer International Book Award for Instruction and Insight. She also hosts the Dementia Home Care Show on USA Global TV. She will teach “A Compelling Nonfiction Book Proposal Anyone Can Write.”

Developmental editor Christine Pinto, of Shoreline, is an award-winning short story writer who teaches 19th-century history lessons for elementary school students. She will teach two workshops — “Writing Distinct Characters with Distinctive Voices” and “Make Every Sentence Work Harder.”

Kelly Langdon of The Dalles, Oregon, has published 25 books, including 10 novels, under the name Kellyn Roth. Her six-book series, The Chronicle of Alice and Ivy, includes The Dressmaker’s Secret and At Her Fingertips. She will teach a marketing workshop, “How to Leverage Your Author Community on Social Media to Sell More Books.”

Annette Grantham, of Winlock, author of the acclaimed five-book fantasy series, The Frontier Witches, describes the books as “where the grit of Deadwood meets the enchanting allure of Practical Magic” about “witches who don’t just navigate but flourish in the untamed frontiers of the Old West.” She will teach a workshop on “The Ultimate Quest: Self-Publishing.”

Wendy Kendall, of Edmonds, who critiqued manuscripts at the Seattle Writing Workshop last weekend and taught a workshop on the art of the hook, is the author of the newly released Kat Out of the Bag, the first in a five-part In Purse-Suit Mystery series featuring a purse designer and sleuth. At the Centralia conference, she will teach a workshop on “Writing Novellas.”

Author and folklorist Kate Ristau of Tigard, Oregon, executive director of Willamette Writers, is the author of three middle-grade series — Clockbreakers, Mythwakers and Wylde Wings — and the young adult Shadow Girl series. She’s also vice president of the Oregon Poetry Association and chairs the Tigard Public Library board. She will teach “Look Who’s Talking: Dialogue & Action.”

Finally, Jeff Cheney, of Vernonia, Oregon, whose career includes jobs as a civilian contract mechanic for the U.S. Army, heavy equipment mechanic, high school teacher and high-tech computer chip manufacturer, will teach about collaborating with other writers in his workshop, “How to Write a Book with Another Author  and Survive.” He worked with his brothers in writing four science fiction and fantasy novels — Dead Reckoning, Day of Reckoning, Force of Reckoning, and Final Reckoning. He also wrote two novels himself, Forged by Betrayal and Music Box Murders.

As I write about these workshops, I want to attend all of them. But like everyone else, I’ll have to narrow my choices to four — one at 11 a.m., 1:15, 2:30 and 3:45 p.m.

Early registration runs through July 31, after which prices increase. To register, visit the website at www.southwestwashingtonwriters.com. To become a conference sponsor or volunteer, send an email to swwc18@gmail.com


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