Program and Schedule

Conversations and Connections features three separate workshop/panel sessions of one hour each. Topics are split between fiction, poetry, essay/memoir, mixed-genre, and getting your stuff published. We try to make sure there’s something for the beginning writer, as well as those of you who are a little further along in your writing careers. Below is the conference schedule, and then below that are descriptions of each panel or workshop session.



8:30 — 9:00: In-person registration and pre-registration packet pickup


9:15 — 9:30: Welcome


9:30: Keynote speech: Matthea Harvey


10:45 — 11:45: Session One: Panels and Craft Sessions
  • FICTION: Whose History is it Anyway? Writing Historical Fiction in a Post-Modern World (panel discussion)
  • NONFICTION: Writing About Yourself (Without Sounding Like a Narcissist) (panel discussion)
  • POETRY: Workshop with Sampson Starkweather
  • THE WRITING LIFE: Writing While Parenting (panel discussion)
  • THE WRITING LIFE: Literary Citizenship (panel discussion)


12:00 — 2:00: Speed dating and lunch


2:15 — 3:15: Session Two: Panels and Craft Sessions
  • FICTION: Creating Fraudulent Artifacts: Stories that Masquerade as Other Forms of Writing
  • CROSS-GENRE: Show Us the Gun: Building Suspense in Your Writing
  • CROSS-GENRE: What Your Silence Tells You: craft workshop with Lisa Schamess
  • POETRY: Places That Are Gone: A Workshop and Discussion of Post-Confessional Poetry, with Steve Kistulentz
  • GETTING YOUR STUFF PUBLISHED: Does Size Matter? Big Presses and Small Presses (panel discussion)


3:30 — 4:30: Session Two: Panels and Craft Sessions
  • FICTION: Your First Sentence isn’t Your First Sentence: Opening a Short Story, workshop with Tom Bligh
  • NONFICTION: Freelancing is Not Writing for Free: How to Get Paid for the Work You Do (panel discussion)
  • POETRY: “True” Lines: Poetic License and Accurate Communication (panel discussion)
  • GETTING YOUR STUFF PUBLISHED: This is Why We Didn’t Publish Your Story/Poem/Essay (panel discussion with Barrelhouse)
  • GETTING YOUR STUFF PUBLISHED: Getting An Agent: What Every Emerging Writer Needs to Know (panel discussion)






Whose History is It, Anyway?: Writing Historical Fiction in a Post-Modern World

Panel discussion led by Amber Sparks, with Steve Himmer, Louis Bayard, and Keith Donohue.
Historical fiction is having a moment, what with the critical and popular success of books like Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies and Wolf Hall, Laurent Binet’s HHhH, and Ann Beattie’s Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life. But can writing from history, a form long relegated to the off-color back rooms of “genre” fiction, truly be transformed for a modern world? Who gets to write history? What are the responsibilities, if any, of the writer? Does historical fiction have to be accurate – or is there a larger truth to be found in creating a true fiction around the past?

Creating Fraudulent Artifacts: Stories that Masquerade as Other Forms of Writing

Craft workshop: Writer Matthew Vollmer, author of Inscriptions for Headstones and co-editor of Fakes: An Anthology of Pseudo-Interviews, Faux-Lectures, Quasi-Letters, “Found” Texts, and Other Fraudulent Artifacts.
Walter Benjamin said that all great art either dissolves or expands its genre. What does this have to do with writing prose, and how can our understanding of the conventions of various genres help us redefine the kinds of spaces that we as story writers can occupy? This craft talk will discuss the varieties of texts we encounter in everyday life–from tweets to status updates to grocery lists to holy scripture–and provide examples of the ways that writers have colonized these forms in order to make innovative and energetic work, while introducing strategies that writers can use to shape their their own unique innovations.

Your First Sentence isn’t Your First Sentence: Opening a Short Story

Craft workshop: Writer Tom Bligh leads this craft session examining short story beginnings and the qualities that make them effective—how they draw readers in, establish setting and tone, hint at conflict, or all of these things. Discussed: velocity, verve, and revision, with examples from published stories and lurid peeks at early drafts.




Writing About Yourself (Without Sounding Like a Narcissist)

Panel discussion led by Cathy Alter, with Marita Golden, and others TBA.
Writing nonfiction implies that you’re writing about the world ‘out there’ — not your inner world. But of course, weaving your personal life experiences into your nonfiction is often how readers connect to your subject. How do writers incorporate personal experiences into their nonfiction? A Panel of accomplished non-fiction authors will address this question.

Freelancing is Not Writing for Free: How to Get Paid for the Work You Do

Panel discussion led by Andrew Keating, with Mike Madden and Roshanak Taghavi.
Many people dream about being able to sell their writing, but few know where to begin. Two experienced freelancers and a longtime editor will discuss the pitfalls and successes of the freelance life, offering tips on how to pitch stories, and answering questions about how to succeed as a freelance writer.





Self Help Poetry Workshop: Poetry as Magic with featured poet Sampson Starkweather and Hannah Gamble

Tired of boring, predictable, and clichéd poems? Tired of being rejected? Tired of being alone (ala Al Green)? Rilke was right–almost–you must change your poetry! Expand your transcendence!! Enlarge your dreams!! Strengthen your line breaks!! Lose 20 pounds!! Think of this as Pilates for your imagination (towels not included). We will be discussing strategies, techniques, practices, and examples of how to create and use SURPRISE! (both in ourselves and the reader) to create magic, tension, energy, and to keep the reader excited and constantly on their toes. Because to misquote Robert Frost, “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

“True” Lines: Poetic License and Accurate Communication

Panel discussion with poets and editors Jacob Bennett, Mel Nichols, and Kimberly Ann Southwick, with more to be added later.
A widening array of forms and ways to communicate poetically can often lead writers into the realms of either unintentional nonsense or well-crafted meaninglessness, among other bewildering places. How much importance should a poet put into conveying “truth” in his or her work? How can a poet be sure that the poem’s message is being received accurately by a reader? Does this accuracy of reception matter? Is there a role in poetry for subterfuge? Is precision (be it clarity of diction, historical accuracy, or etymological precedence) necessary for a poem to be successful?

Places That Are Gone: A Workshop and Discussion of Post-Confessional Poetry

Craft session with Steve Kistulentz
The Academy of American Poets once defined confessional poetry as the poetry of the personal, often marked by the first person pronoun, “I”. Today’s poetry, however, often approaches the personal using a myriad of approaches, and is often far more expansive than the psychological investigation of personal experience. In this interactive discussion, we’ll look at the ways and means of using the personal in what we might call the post-confessional era. How do today’s most interesting and innovative poets use personal experience as a tool to investigate the larger world? We’ll look at examples from contemporary poets like Erika Meitner, Josh Bell, Mary Biddinger, Rachel Zucker and more, and we’ll discuss one poem by each workshop participant.




Show Us the Gun: Building Suspense in Your Writing

Panel discussion led by Joe Killiany, with James Grady and Con Lehane.
Alfred Hitchcock once said the only way to create suspense in a story is to give the audience information. While this certainly seems true, it also raises questions for writers looking to ratchet up the suspense in their work: What type of information serves to create suspense? In what order should such information be parceled out? How does a writer foreshadow an event but avoid giving too much away? In this panel discussion, writers who know how to keep readers turning pages will provide practical tips on creating a suspenseful story. Probable topics will include approaches to characterization and plot.

What Your Silence Tells You

Craft workshop with Lisa Schamess
Silence is one very important tool for the writer, yet a very edgy one, too. On the one hand, most of us don’t experience enough silence in our days. On the other hand, we may find that silence descends on us at unexpected times and seems to work against us. This craft lecture focuses on the powers of the silences that can weave themselves into our work, as well as the difficulties and pleasures of the ambiguous, silent places we go as writers. Using examples from her own work and process, Lisa Schamess will guide participants through a session and discussion of practical tips and exercises for seeking out what you have to say while respecting what can’t be said. Whether you are having trouble articulating some specific part of your work, are actively blocked across all your writing, are overwhelmed by distractions that stifle your process, or are simply interested in quieting all the competing noise in favor of a stiller, deeper aesthetic from within, this craft session will help you experience the “white space” that bears your words.




This is Why We Didn’t Publish Your Story/Poem/Essay

Panel discussion by Staff of Barrelhouse: Dan Brady (Poetry Editor), Susan Muaddi-Darraj (Online Editor), Tom McAllister (Nonfiction Editor), Mike Ingram, Dave Housley, and Joe Killiany (Fiction Editors).
The entire Barrelhouse editorial staff discusses some of the reasons we might reject your work. The discussion will include elements of craft, as well as the basics of the publishing relationship, with plenty of time for discussion and questions. 

Does Size Matter? Big Presses and Small Presses

Panel discussion led by Laura van den Berg, with Danielle Evans, Scott GarsonElliott Holt and David Taylor.
Despite the doom-and-gloom talk in the publishing work, the landscape is rich with options for writers. Editors and imprints at the “big six” continues to nurture the careers of emerging and established writers, and independent publisher are an ever-increasing force in publishing, taking 4 out of 5 slots for this year’s PEN/Faulkner Award finalists. This panel will offer a detailed and varied overview of the process with publishing with houses large and small, addressing the specifics of the panelists’ experiences with submissions, editing, and marketing.

Getting An Agent: What Every Emerging Writer Needs to Know

Panel discussion with Tim Wendel, Susi Wyss and Shannon O’Neill.
Forget about the actual writing; many writers spend a lot of time wondering about and working on Getting An Agent, which seems like a major accomplishment in itself. This panel discusses what you need to know about approaching agents, and how to handle the relationship once you actually sign with one.




Writing While Parenting

Panel discussion led by Susan Muaddi-Darraj, with Todd Whaley, Justin MarksJanice D’Arcy, Michelle Brafman, Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson.
Walter Mosley, in his otherwise helpful book, This Year You Write Your Novel, admits that he has no advice for people who are parents. John Updike said he wrote every day, but we bet he wasn’t also changing diapers and acting as a chauffeur for the lacrosse team. Is it fated that people stop writing once they start procreating? We don’t think so. Our panel features several writers who still manage to write somewhat regularly despite the demands of their broods.

The Other Side of Success: Making Rejection into Something Positive

Session with Kim Kupperman.
Let’s pretend for a second (a quick one) that getting rejected didn’t hurt. What can you learn from it instead? How can we view failure in our writing as something that can inspire us instead? Two successful writers share their thoughts on failing.

 Literary Citizenship

Panel discussion with Dan Brady, Adam Robinson, Richard Peabody,Chris Tonelli, and Molly Gaudry.
Novelist Cathy Day defines a literary citizen as “an aspiring writer who understands that you have to contribute to, not just expect things from, the publishing world.” Our panelist will discuss the importance of engaging with the literary world beyond your own writing. What are the benefits of being involved in the larger literary conversations? What are the risks? How do you lend your voice to our cultural discussion?


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