Another PWC (our 66th!) is in the books. Lot’s happened this year, We saw many of our friends return, and made several new friends. Highlights, pictures, and more after the break!
Mr. William Lashner kicked things off with a rousing speech that touched on the magic of writing, starting with the importance of opening lines, and ending with the plea to “listen to the writing and go where it leads” you. One of these years I’ll be able to catch an opening speaker, but the web was abuzz with great feedback, including this one by 4th year conferee Kerry Gans.
Not to be out done , Ms. Luanne Cahn brought the room to laughter and tears as she dared us to live life a little more…uh…daring. Luanne, talked about how after the 2008 recession, she felt her life had entered a rut. Her daughter, sensing her mom’s dissatisfaction from 3000 miles away, called her out a bit, and challenged her, first to start blogging – and then to trying something new every day. And LuAnn did, starting with the Polar Bear plunge, and moving onto a variety of new challenges – from playing with toys to eating a scorpion. The finest moment of her speech came as she described one of the last of her tasks: Talking to a stranger. The elderly widower she spoke with touched her heart, and LuAnn’s vivid portrayal of their conversation hushed the audience. It was a magical moment, and LuAnn proved to be an excellent Keynote speaker that we hope to hear from again and again.
Many thanks to the workshop leaders who answered the call, most notably Greg Frost, who stepped in on short notice when the scheduled Short Story workshop leader was unable to participate. Greg handled things with his usual degree of insight and humor, and his course “Writing the Compelling Short Story” was held in high regard amongst many of the participants I spoke to. Also thanks to Anne Kaier who did the same for the Sunday Memoir class, when Doris Ferleger was literally offered the opportunity of a lifetime with a month long residency at the Vermont Studio Center (congratulations Doris!) and had to leave a day early. Alma Katsu and Austin Camacho generated a ton of buzz with their Novel Workshops (Alma focused on creating conflict; Austin on characterization.) The Camacho family was well represented, with Denise Camacho providing support on our Agents and Editors panel. She had a busy conference as she had some great conversations with many of our conferee authors that left them smiling.
I had the pleasure of sitting through three of our features. Therese Halscheid brought an interesting perspective around the concept of the Lyric Essay, a relatively new form that strives to push the boundaries between art and reality. The supremely creative Terry LaBan walked us through the history of comics and graphic novels and answered questions about the business. And Josh Isard (who was voted onto the PWC Board on Sunday!) gave an excellent and honest review of what MFA programs have to offer.
I couldn’t attend John Timpane’s “Thinking and Styling” but received over a dozen rave reviews who applauded John for his humor and charm. Jeanette Juryea provided some interesting insight on potential career choices working for “the Man” but very much on her own terms. It turns out Corporate America is starving for folks who can get a message out. Marc Lapadula pulled double duty, taking both the 3 day workshop and the Master Class for Screenwriting. Many of his classes occurred in the Penn room, right across from the registration desk, and based on the occasional loud bursts of dialogue, it appears both classes were a lot of fun. Our poets were well represented, with Liz Chang expanding upon her single day feature offered in 2013 to discuss where poetry and literary translation meet. I had the chance to meet Paul Martin and AV Christie who brought their great energy to their classes, and sat with Katherine Ramsland during the Keynote and enjoyed blowing bubbles with that fascinating lady.
We tried a lot of new things this year, starting with more frequent updates of this blog. Leading the way were interviews of several of our workshop leaders who shared their thoughts on being a writer, the writing community, and the conference itself. We hope to continue this new tradition each year, giving our conferees a chance to virtually meet our cast of speakers.
We added two new a la carte workshops under the heading of “Social Media Bootcamp”, both of which proved to be very popular. We were lucky enough to have both SuzyQ Suzanne Kuhn and Upper Case Woman Cecily Kellogg return from their 2013 features to lead. If you’re reading this and starting your blog as a result of either of these classes, give them a shout out in the comments, we’ll be happy to share your link!
We tried a little fun and games during our Friday Night Raps. Apples to Writers was originally envisioned as a prompt contest, but after polling all the raps we decided to combine everyone and just do some prompts and roundtable reading. It was awesome watching the groups responses become more developed as they grew comfortable with the prompt contest, and I had a hard decision naming Melanie Allen as Queen of All Writers. I’m looking forward to next year and I hope Queen Mel comes back to defend her title!
The biggest change occurred around our manuscript contest. First, we now have a submittable site, so no more manually printing or consolidating email. Instead, our judges could log in, view each submission anonymously, and vote on the winner. We also changed the overall format of the contest. Gone were the ties to the individual workshops, instead we focused on 6 different styles in hopes of consolidating entries and getting some quality winners. We also asked our judges to be tough graders, after all the first prize for the contest is a $240 value, the equivalent of a 10 cent/word pro market submission, and we wanted the quality of our winners to match that.
We also solved our long standing “Words on the Wall” problem (namely getting the words to stick to the wall). Kudos to the board members who came up with this solution because we didn’t have one adhesion malfunction. And we added our first prompt contest, using the image of a harried writers sitting before an old fashioned typewriter to inspire you. Congrats to Patricia Crider, who saw in the prompt a young man feeling the butterflies of new-found love and penned “Butterflies Never Rest” which garnered first place and a Farley’s Gift Certificate.
Our Agents and Editor appointments were filled to the brim. I hope everyone had a chance to sit down with at least one. The group returned for a raucous Friday night panel, led by the untamable, unstoppable Conor Goldsmith, he weighed in on every topic and kept the crowd in stitches with his honest appraisal of the agenting world. Sheree Bykofsky was her usual awesome self, sharing the sort of insight that can only be gained by being in the business for over a decade. Linda Gallant from Head and Hand, Maryann Karinch (The Rudy Agency), and Lora Sickora (Rodale Press) rounded out the panel.
What can we say about 2014 Community Service award winner Leonard Gontarek? The unbelievable amount of time and sweat he has dedicated to the Philadelphia Writing Community is incalculable, and his impassioned speech brought many to tears. We are a lucky bunch that he’s around.
How awesome is Judy Schachner? I think she must have gotten nearly 100 autographs requests for SkippyJonJones (including one from yours truly), and she graciously signed each one with a little sketch and a lot of wit.
One thing we’re looking to improve is access to the internet and audio visual equipment. The hotel did a wonderful job getting us set up with some last minute equipment, but we were only able to secure one room for one day. Many, many thanks to our workshop leaders who found a way without, most notably David Greenberg who somehow managed to teach a short film class without having the ability to show any short films. Don’t worry, we’re looking at ways to improve this next year without completely blowing up our cost structure.
Farley’s Books did their usual great job, shuttling dozens (maybe 100s ) of titles between the storage closets and setting them up each days. Our independent bookstores are a treasure, and Farley’s out of New Hope are in a class by themselves.
All and all, we had about 200 participants, including 128 conferees, 40 board members, judges, agents and editors, and 30 workshop leaders. Our most populated class was John Timpane’s Thinking and Styling, with 87 participants. Our most populated 3 day workshop was Alma Katsu’s “Upping the Ante: Creating and Sustaining Conflict” had 71 registered participants.
There’s so much more to discuss, but I’m already about 800 words over my self-imposed 500 word limit. The board have taken their week off to recuperate, catch up on weeks of sleep deficits, and basically recharge, and we’re already looking towards 2015