Roanoke Regional Writers Conference Begins January 23 at Hollins University

The 2015 Roanoke Regional Writers Conference kicks off a week from today at Hollins University. More than two dozen Virginia writers, authors, journalists and publishing professionals will speak and teach classes on a range of topics. This is the eighth edition of the popular writers conference.

This will be my fourth consecutive trip to the conference, a little more than an hour from my home in Floyd. In 2013 I taught on writing and refining book proposals aimed at major publishers. Last year I was a student, soaking up the teaching, the inspiration and the networking. This year I will teach a class on researching nonfiction.

Following are the schedule and lineup of classes.

Friday January 23, 2015 from 6 to 10 p.m.:

Reception (Richard Wetherill Visual Arts Center)

6 p.m. Networking
7 p.m. Welcome, Hollins President Nancy Oliver Gray
7:10 p.m. Presentation of scholarship award
7:20 p.m. Introduction of teaching staff
7:35 p.m. Greg Trafidlo, A song for our conference
7:45 p.m. Anne Adams: “Truth Is Always Stranger Than Fiction in My Neck of the Woods”
8 p.m. Roland Lazenby and Keith Ferrell: “The Future of the Book”

Saturday January 24, 2015 from 830 a.m. to 6 p.m.:

Classes (Dana Science Building)

8:30-9:30 a.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Roundtable Discussion “Getting Into Print” (Dan Smith moderator)

9:45-10:45 a.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Lindsey Narmour “So I’m Writing a Love Scene: A Look at Sex in Writing”

Room 102, Alice de Sturler “True Crime Reporting: Blog to Business”
Room 114, Betsy Ashton “Writers and Their Communities: A Fusion”
Room 142, Liz Long “Social Media Marketing for Writers”

11 a.m.-Noon
Babcock Auditorium, Sarah Beth Jones “Kicking Fear in the Pants: Clearing the Path to Your Authentic Writing Voice”

Room 114, Anita Firebaugh “The Writers’ Journal: Fleshing Out the Details”
Room 102, Diane Fanning “Interview Techniques for Fact or Fiction”
Room 142, Rod Belcher “Dreaming Big: Avoiding the SF/Fantasy Slush Pile”
Noon, Lunch in Hollins Dining Hall, Moody Center (Remember your lunch ticket)

1-2 p.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Ed Falco “True Crime Fiction: Isn’t That an Oxymoron?”

Room 102, Brad Kelley “Critical Thinking to Improve Writing”
Room 114, Greg Trafidlo “Breaking Writers Block: Some Effective Techniques”
Room 142, Todd Ristau “An Introduction to Adaptation: How to Turn Your Novel or Poem into a Stage Play”
2:15-3:15 p.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Saundra Kelly “Storytelling: Using the Story-Arc Format from the Ancient Oral Tradition”

Room 102, Andrea Brunais “Creating Greater Clarity in Your Work” (Students encouraged to bring writing examples to class)
Room 114, Dan Casey “Storytelling on LSD”
Room 142, Carol Alexander “Writing a Query Letter that Sells”

3:30-4:30 p.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Karen Chase “Building a Publishing Resume and Network”

Room 102, Terri Leidich “The Latest and Greatest Tools for Marketing Your Books”
Room 114, Margo Oxendine “Your Life is a Column—Write It”
Room 142, Keith Ferrell “Being Taken Seriously in a World That Undervalues Writers”

4:45-5:45 p.m.
Babcock Auditorium: Tim Thornton “Getting the Last Word: Writing a Great Obituary for Yourself or Somebody Else”

Room 102, Neil Sagebiel “Researching Nonfiction”
Room 114, Sharon Rappaport “Channeling Voices: Ghostwriting, Copywriting and Other Not-So-Scary Gigs”
Room 142, Dan Radmacher “Opinions Are Like Noses: Everyone Has One; How To Make Yours Count With Solid Research”

Face The Nation (VIDEO): Laura Hillenbrand, the Amazing Stay-at-Home Author

Bob Schieffer, host of “Face The Nation,” recently interviewed author Laura Hillenbrand about her unusual working methods due to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Hillenbrand has written two books, Seabiscuit and Unbroken, both of them bestsellers.

Not only is Hillenbrand talented and dedicated, she is incredibly courageous. She shows us that it’s possible to find, research, write and publish compelling stories from the confines of home.

Media Connect Q&A With Rob Kirkpatrick (My Editor)

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Rob Kirkpatrick.

My editor, Rob Kirkpatrick of Thomas Dunne Books (a part of St. Martin’s Press), was interviewed by MEDIA CONNECT in November. It was interesting to read his thoughts on being an editor and the publishing industry.

Following are a couple of takeaways from that Q&A.

MC: As an acquiring editor do you look at the author’s work or platform first?
RK: Absolutely, especially as I acquire primarily nonfiction. I remember a proposal I received several years ago for a book from an author whose most recent book had sold quite modestly. I would have needed a way to position the author and his next book more effectively. The proposal neglected to mention what the author did for a living, so I inquired. The agent, an experienced one, asked me, “Why do you need to know?” That response floored me and still does. An author’s profession and platform are always relevant when trying to plan how to publish his or her book.

MC: What advice do you have for young writers today?
RK: Write because you are passionate about something and feel you have a compelling story to tell and a unique voice with which to tell it. That is all. If you want to become a writer because you think it sounds glamorous or because you’ve heard about the millions of copies this or that bestselling authors has sold, you will most likely be disappointed.

Rob is a great editor. He is low key and encouraging, two attributes that are beneficial to any writer tasked with birthing and promoting a book. I was extremely fortunate he acquired and edited my first book, as well as my second book.

The Atlantic: Anatomy of Two Bestsellers

In “How to Make a Bestselling Book” at TheAtlantic.com, literary agent Howard Yoon makes a case for traditional publishing and why it’s still relevant. Yoon cites two authors (both are his clients), and how their book projects became New York Times bestsellers.

Yoon provides the blow-by-blow account of the authors and their paths to the bestseller list, explaining how they “needed the skills of an entire team of publishing professionals to help them on their publishing journey.”

An opening excerpt:

As imperfect as our business is, anyone who wants to write a book of lasting value, a book that can change the way people think about the world, a book that can get national and possibly global distribution in real hard copies, knows that the traditional publishing path is still the best path to take.

Yoon introduces clients Dan Schulman and Dana Goldstein and details their projects.

A closing excerpt:

People always seem surprised when I tell them the publishing business is doing just fine. They expect me to share tales of woe and misery—and incompetence. I remain optimistic. For every forgettable snarky Facebook rant, for every counterintuitive, impermanent let-me-explain-the-world-to-you thought piece, for every formulaic superhero movie or sitcom, there grows a place in the hearts of thoughtful readers out there for works by writers like Dan and Dana.

My Author Appearance at National Press Club Book Fair

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National Press Club Book Fair.

I’m honored and excited to be an invited author for the 37th Annual National Press Club Book Fair & Authors’ Night next Tuesday (November 18) in Washington, D.C. There are a lot of famous authors on the list. And one much lesser-known one from Floyd, Virginia. Occasionally, the door cracks open and you get to see what it’s like to be on the inside.

Here’s the scoop from The National Press Club:

The Capitol region’s premiere holiday book event is back for the 37th year! The National Press Club Journalism Institute is once again partnering with landmark local book seller Politics & Prose for a night of pols, pundits and prose.

Authors will be on hand to talk to their fans and sign books at this most exciting literary event. Patrons can browse for books at the Club’s headquarters at 529 14th Street NW from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Save time and pre-order your tickets below. Tickets will also be available at the door.

The Book Fair is a fundraiser for The National Press Club Journalism Institute, a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization, which advances journalistic practice by equipping professionals with the skills and competence to innovate, leveraging emerging trends, recognizing leaders and innovators, and mentoring the next generation of journalism and communications professionals. The Book Fair also supports the Club’s beautifully renovated Eric Friedheim National Journalism Library, which provides research and resources for news professionals.

5 Steps for Writing Anything

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Me with sixth-grade storytellers.

I spent most of Friday at the local elementary school talking with sixth graders about writing and storytelling. It was fun. I loved it. They are smart, those sixth graders.

We discussed their current project: writing short stories. They had completed their rough drafts.

I also talked with them about the writing process, which they already grasped. I realized something. The writing process is essentially the same no matter the project. I think it holds true whether one is writing a slogan or a headline, a short story or a speech, a 300-page book or a screenplay.

I’ve distilled the writing process into these five steps:

1. Ideas.
This is the brainstorming stage. Get the ideas out of your head. Many will stink. And you know that’s OK, right?

2. Research.
Collect information. Observe the world. Talk to people.

3. Notes and outline.
Get organized. Shape the material you have collected. Get ready to write.

4. Rough draft.
This is the step during which you write everything down, so to speak. Get the story out. Don’t edit yet. Or at least wait until the end of the day or next morning to clean up what you’ve drafted.

5. Rewrite, edit and polish.
This step, I believe, is self-explanatory. If your writing was woodwork, this is the chiseling and sanding stage. And the stage when you add a finishing coat.

If you faithfully follow the above steps, and if you put adequate effort and quality into each one, I believe you will produce a sturdy piece of writing and perhaps even a small masterpiece.

Back to College With Biographer Roland Lazenby

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Image courtesy of The Daily Tar Heel.

I went back to college last Friday with biographer Roland Lazenby, who signed copies of his Michael Jordan: The Life.

Check out the short video by The Daily Tar Heel featuring the gregarious author. We were situated near the front of the Student Stores on the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill. (I’m in the background wearing Carolina blue.)

It was a gorgeous autumn day and there were good vibes in the student bookstore and on campus.

I also had fun talking to the two sophomore journalism students who shot the video and interviewed the author.