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My First Writing Conference

My First Writing Conference

I attended my first West Virginia Writer’s Conference at Cedar Lake in Ripley, West Virginia this past weekend. Olivia Ferguson, past Guest Author and friend, attended with me. We enjoyed every minute of the three day event. The conference was full of workshops, lectures, discussion panels, readings, contests, collaborations, celebrations, and so much more. While I hate to start this post with criticisms of such an overall wonderful event, I feel I must:

  1. I should have attended this conference several years ago.
  2. I hate I couldn’t go to each and every session offered!

I learned so many new things and made really great connections with other writers. Writing this post is a challenge for me as I don’t know where to start! I’ll say this before I get into the nitty gritty of the post: I’ve included the names of the speakers and linked to some of their work at the end of this post and whether you are a writer or reader, I strongly suggest you click the links and check out these amazing authors. Over the course of the three days, we attended roughly ten sessions and I filled half a notebook with notes and writing exercises.

Olivia and I gravitated toward the workshops geared toward sci-fi/fantasy (or speculative fiction) since those fit our current writing interests. These workshops focused on creating a believable “monster” or villain. Frank Larnerd pointed out how some of the most famous monster in literature and movies are all the more hideous to us because there is some humanistic quality, a familiarity, wrapped in some off-putting body or form. The other workshops included using things like tarot cards to flesh out characters and plot, Southern Gothic styles, Magical realism, and so much more.

Bil Lepp held a workshop on Tall Tales and provided the entertainment at the awards banquet. He is amazingly funny. His ability to take a mundane activity, like going to the dentist, and turn it into an entertaining story blew me away. He talked about giving the reader, or in his case listener, enough information to make them comfortable and allow them to suspend logic. While I may not be an oral storyteller that advice still applies. If I want my readers to believe my main character lives on a newly discovered planet called Arbez, I have to make certain elements of that planet familiar to my reader.

The other workshops we attended focused on non-fiction and/or memoir. While the focus for these sessions was a little different, I still pulled out nuggets of information I could apply to my writing. For example, Fran Simone talked about how scene and summary drive the story in memoir and she gave us a hand out with pages of wonderful examples. She included one of the best post-session reference/reading lists of the entire conference. This information will be helpful for upcoming Memory Monday pieces! Carter Taylor Seaton also presented a session on the importance of good research and using primary and secondary sources. Research is necessary for fiction work as well and her tips will help me “write from a position of knowledge” going forward.

The Social Media Panel was also interesting, but not exactly what I expected. The panel discussed the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, Instagram, Tumbler, Google+, and Goodreads to promote yourself as an author and your bibliography. They also talked about using paid advertising packages offered by various sites. The big takeaway on paid advertising is to set spending limits to stay within your budget. There was also discussion around only using social media versus having a Web site. The consensus was social media popularity changes. Apparently Facebook is for “old people” now according to one panelist’s clients. So while social media sites rise and fall in popularity, a Web site has permanence. If you are new to building an author platform, the general advice was: be authentic and don’t try to force a social media presence, try the various sites to see what fits you best, you may use different sites for different things, and be nice.

To learn more about WV Writers, Inc visit their WVWriters (there are links to the conference and writing contest information as well).

Olivia and I are already looking forward to next year’s conference! We even have a list of must dos/don’ts for next time:

  • Pre-register as early as possible.
  • Skip most of the meals on the meal plan (breakfast and the banquet dinner are tolerable)
  • Enter the annual writing contest.
  • Bring swimwear (Cedar Lakes has a pool.)
  • Bring a chair/blanket for outdoor sitting and writing

As promised, here is the list of authors and books to check out:


About Marsha Blevins, Author

Marsha Blevins lives in West Virginia with her boyfriend and six fur-children. She earned her B.A. in English with a concentration on writing from Marshall University. Two of her short stories and several poems were published in the university’s literary magazine, Et Cetera. She is an active member of the writing group Wicked Wordsmiths of the West and WV Writers. Follow her at on Facebook at, on Twitter @marbleswords.

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