Monday, August 8, 2011

Willamette Writers Conference 2011: It's History

Every year at this time, I devote three days of my life to the Willamette Writers Conference, held right here in Portland. (The Willamette, FYI, is a big honkin’ river that flows up from southern Oregon, cuts right through town, and heads west, where it joins up with the mighty Columbia and rolls into the sea.)

As usual, I worked as a Pitch Practice volunteer, listening to people try out their literary and film pitches and helping them whip them into shape. I worked with folks trying to sell thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy, historical, YA and middle-grade fiction. At least five of the people I met had written memoirs. One guy had a 500-word book conveying its message with stuffed animal photography. And - there were screenplays running the gamut from documentaries to romantic comedies, with a couple of shots at TV series. This year I also did a lot of “Manuscript E.R.,” offering on-the-spot assistance with query letters, opening chapters, story structure, and even magazine articles. Thinking that hard, that fast, is a rush, but my brain hurts.

Now in its 42th year, this 3-day conference is by all accounts one of the best held anywhere. One reason is the extraordinary opportunity to pitch projects to literary editors and agents handling both books and films. Near as I could count, this year we had 19 literary agents and 8 editors, plus about 15 film professionals - a mix of agents and producers. For those unable to snag one-on-one meetings with these folks, most also hold group meetings, welcoming 10 or 12 writers at a time.

When not meeting the pros, writers have a nine-ring circus of events to keep them busy.
Four times each day (twice in the morning and twice after lunch) there are between seven and nine 90-minute events going on. These cover just about every aspect of writing and the writing life. The schedule assures there’s always at least one of interest to folk writing adult fiction, children’s fiction, nonfiction or screenplays, and plenty of others dealing with more specialized fields, topics or skills.

Two of the busiest presenters this year were mystery writers Hallie Ephron (a regular) and Robert Dugoni (a newcomer, I think). I attended two of Hallie’s, “Details to Make (or Break) a Character” and “Fly High, Fly Low Revision,”  - and two of Robert’s, “Writing the Knockout Query & Synopsis” and “The Second Draft - Are you a Barfer or a Pantser.” I never found out if I was a Barfer or a Pantser, but all four seminars were valuable and entertaining. I also took in a panel of five editors, including Terri Bischoff of Midnight Ink, Benjamin LeRoy of Tyrus Books, Martin Biro of Kensington, Emily Griffin of Grand Central Publishing (part of the group formerly known as Warners) and Denise Roy of Dutton. Interesting stuff.

Why am I telling you all this? If you’re a writer, and I know some of you are, you might consider visiting Portland next August. There are plenty of worse ways to spend your time.


Cap'n Bob said...

Oh, you're a pantser all right, Evan. Believe me.

Evan Lewis said...

Hm. Not so sure. I've never pantsed, though I've done the other plenty of times.

Cap'n Bob said...

Sorry I missed it this year. Turns out I didn't have to report for jury duty after Tuesday of last week, but they don't let you know until the night before. Fact is, I haven't had to go in this week yet.

Evan Lewis said...