"One has to have an innate talent for hearing the words."
— David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars
A Special Report On The Southwest Writers Workshop 16th Annual Conference
In one of the nation's largest and best-organized writers conferences, Southwest Writers Workshop out-peformed itself once again this year. More than 500 people attended the 16th annual event, held at the Albuquerque Convention Center, Albuquerque, NM, September 18-20.
The impressive lineup of speakers included David Guterson, best selling author of Snow Falling on Cedars (Pen Falkner Award winner); US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, Malachy McCourt, author of A Monk Swimming and brother of Frank McCourt, author of bestseller Angela's Ashes, and Patricia Schroeder, CEO and President of the Association of American Publishers( AAP). .
A total of sixty-four speakers, including top editor, agents, and authors were on hand to give participants insights into improving their craft and marketability. Authorlink! Editor–in-Chief was among presenters, giving a double-header talk on Seven Strategies for Marketing Your Writing on the Internet.
In a keynote address, David Guterson told writers that "one has to have an innate talent for hearing words. A lot of people have the gift and they become writers because they sense they have it. You have to have both inclination and ability." Guterson said that while the craft can be learned, something must force you on the path toward your own vision, your own voice. He encouraged writers to read a lot, including such writers as John Gardner, author of On World Fiction.
Guterson sees writing as a calling. "I see myself in a social role. I imagine our culture as a small tribe in dark times, gathered around the campfire. A good writer can give comfort and solace to a people who can no longer look to politicians for moral leadership." He encouraged writers to find their roles in society as storytellers.
In an inspiring talk that had his audience moving from tears to laughter and back again, Malachy McCourt told the full conference about growing up poor in Ireland. He said he never thought he could write, despite the fact that his book has become a hot seller. He encouraged his audience to acknowledge that they have a special gift. "No matter, be the best of what you are. You're special. Live every day as if it's your last and one day. . .you'll be right."
He ended his speech with the song of Ireland, unaccompanied, and received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Amy Rennert, managing director of Donnaud & Rennert Literary Agents, was among a list of outstanding agents who also included David Hale Smith, who presented practical how-to sessions on improving one's craft and marketability. Ms. Rennert encouraged writers to "write what you know, and share your work with others such as a good critique group. She also suggested that if a published author has read your work mention it in the cover letter. She also encouraged writers to ask questions of the agent who shows interest in the work. " Where will the agent submit the work? What will be the time frame? How will we work together. These are all questions you have the right to know," she said. She also said writers should get to know their local booksellers, and find out what's selling. Local bookstores may also be able to give the writer the name of a good book doctor, if one is required.
Rennert concluded that her main goal is to "publish books that make a difference, books that inspire, have a voice and take you places."
This year's Southwest Writers Conference chair was Jo Ann Hamlin, also a past president of the organization, and one of the finest organizers in the writing business. Current president is Suzanne Spletzer, and Carol Bruce-Fritz is executive directory.
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