Writers Have Plenty of Reasons to Attend Island Conference

Posted in Feature, Literary, More Stories

Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
October 22, 2014

There are at least 150 good reasons to take part in the upcoming Whidbey Island Writers Conference (WIWC)—at least one for every writer who plans to attend.

Just ask Kristen Nelson. A brother’s military service inspired her to write a novel with a premise as intriguing as it is surprising: the trials and rewards of a soldier leaving the male-dominated field of special ops to learn, of all things, midwifery.

The task of writing a first novel is a daunting one.

“I second-guess myself and doubt my ability to do this,” admitted Nelson, a resident of Useless Bay. She considers the conference a great opportunity to experience camaraderie with others like herself who labor away in silence and solitude, chasing a vision only they can see.

“Writing can be an isolated, solo experience, but it can also be a collaboration. I’ve realized that other people are here to help. This is my first WIWA conference, and I’m looking forward to learning about craft.”

Whidbey Island Writer's Conference Poster

Whidbey Island Writer’s Conference Poster

Conference veteran Gloria Koll has her own reason for attending the gathering. A seasoned writer, Koll is finishing a novel she plans to release in early 2015 through Amazon’s CreateSpace, a means by which authors can self-publish their work. Set between the years 1885 and 1945, Koll’s saga involves a young woman journeying from Norway to Dakota Territory.

Koll is a regular participant in the fall WIWC and counts on it to sharpen her storytelling skills. “Speakers give me inspiration to go off in a different direction,” she said. “Breakout sessions make it easy to ask questions and exchange ideas.”

Indeed, Day One is filled with small, intimate classes that allow instructors and attendees one-on-one interaction in a casual setting.  Access to the workshop leaders and keynote speakers is one of the most popular features of the event.

“Our unique Chat House format is informal, friendly and welcoming,” notes conference director Terry Persun. “Everything is geared to help attendees feel comfortable working with professionals who can help them achieve their writing goals.”

According to Freeland resident Valerie Johnson, the conference will help her decide “whether I can do this thing.” For years Johnson has considered capturing her rich family history, much of it written down by ancestors, in a novel. “It would include the grittier parts of ‘mountain’ life: folklore and a little black magic,” she said. Part of her desire to turn family memories into historical fiction stems from the recent death of a relative (and local Missouri storyteller) at age 102.

“My motivation to call myself a writer may be as simple as, if these people, with their hardscrabble lives, could do it, I can.  I know I’m drawn to try.”

Setting is important to writers, and WIWC organizers have sought out inspirational settings for events in private homes, historic buildings, and local businesses scattered throughout Coupeville and the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

Tranquil settings are a welcome counterpoint to the political and psychological thriller Geoff Tapert first conceived in 2010.

“I have a big story to tell involving a citizen getting caught up in the American surveillance state, getting out of it and creating change along the way.  If I want my story to assist with much-needed reforms, it has to intrigue the reader.  I’ve done more than enough research. For an engineer, excluding information isn’t easy.”

Tapert attended part of last year’s conference and liked what he saw.  His primary reason for returning this year is to learn more about developing his characters as well as how to identify and understand his target audience.

Tapert is not alone.  Carving out a niche, creating a platform, finding a readership is one of the writer’s greatest challenges.  Accordingly, conference organizers have included sessions on the practicalities of publishing and marketing, including opportunities to meet with agents and editors.

Susan Wingate will be teaching at a Chat House,  "Breaking the rules of fiction" with Nicole Persun. (photo courtesy of WIWC)

Susan Wingate will be teaching at a Chat House, “Breaking the rules of fiction” with Nicole Persun. (photo courtesy of WIWC)

Tim Mack plans on taking full advantage.

A newcomer to Langley, Mack has written a nonfiction book about young wealthy technology philanthropists and how they seek to change the world in ways that are often more wistful than workable. A long-time public policy analyst and consultant, Mack has a keen interest in utopian societies that start out with idealistic aims.

“How do people get together in the modern age in constructive ways? Solutions aren’t enough,” Mack stated. “We need folks with implementation skills.”

His book completed, Mack is ready to pen a proposal. “I need to learn how to talk to people who might be interested. The conference is a service to people who are newbies to nonfiction.”

But Mack has yet another reason for attending. “It’s a chance for me to watch and listen and begin to immerse myself in the writers’ community. I’m seeking some kind of support system.”

Daniel James Brown, author of "The Boys in the Boat"  (photo courtesy of NILA)

Daniel James Brown, author of “The Boys in the Boat” (photo courtesy of NILA)

In recognition of the need to cut loose every now and then, participants will be given plenty of time to take the stage, enjoy live music and mingle.  A “Write Night” party at Greenbank Farm promises writers the opportunity to wordsmith together, inspired by the Saturday evening keynote speech of best-selling author Daniel James Brown (“The Boys in the Boat”). Open mics will offer writers the possibility to read their work aloud.  Music by The Western Heroes will tempt writers to trade the computer screen for the dance floor.

At least until Monday, when it’s time to wake up and pound the keys again.

To learn more about the conference and to register, visit nila.edu/wiwc.

The Northwest Institute of Language Arts (NILA) encompasses the Whidbey Writers Workshop low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, the Whidbey Island Writers Conference, and the Whidbey Island Writers Association. NILA also produces the Soundings Review literary magazine.

Photo at the top: Sarah Zale, teaching at this year’s conference with Bill Kenower: “Life as story: in poem, memoir, and personal essay.” (photo courtesy of WIWC) 


Dianna MacLeod received her journalism degree from the University of Michigan and is an alumnae of Hedgebrook writing retreat for women. Under the critical eye of her Whidbey Island writing group, she hopes to complete her novel, “Sainted,” in 2015.

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  1. Thank you, Diane. What a wonderful piece. Nice job capturing the essence of our great Whidbey conference. No other conference that I’ve ever been to or heard about has the intimate, accessible feel that this one has. So many publishing deals have come about because of the craft honing and contacts found here.

    I didn’t attend the first years of Whidbey’s conference because I thought it was just a little hometown-type event. I traveled to other parts of the country to much bigger conferences instead. They were much more expensive, less satisfying, and the quality of presenters was no better than here. The Whidbey conference got me published, and it’s where I met an editor and agent who I worked with for years.

    How good can it be if it’s just here on Whidbey? I remember a regular presenter at the Maui conference (who also presented here) say, “I used to say Maui was the best conference in the nation. I don’t any more.”

    Want to shorten your writing learning curve? Sign up right now!

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