Light rain strikes a window in regular, consistent streaks.
Fingers clack a keyboard amidst regular grunts of frustration.
Lamplight bathes a figure otherwise shrouded in darkness.
Passerby traverse the sidewalk, laughing and reminiscing about a night out.
Neighbors play music and host a gathering of family and friends.
Wildlife roams, the summer air invigorating their astute senses
When you think of writing, perhaps an image similar to the one above appears in your mind. The solitary, dedicated writer furiously working on a piece, unable to participate with the society around them.
Although that can be true, especially when a deadlines loom, writing can be and often is a highly social activity.
This past weekend, I enjoyed the Lakefly Writers Conference hosted in my hometown of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. After a long two year absence due to COVID, Lakefly came roaring back with a vengeance.
Solitary creation became social collaboration.
For me, its return was even sweeter because I was on the planning committee and volunteered at the event. Much like when I complete a piece of writing, experiencing Lakfely gave me great satisfaction as I could say, “I helped make this happen.”
From the start, I was on the move. Moderating sessions, engaging in conversation, listening to speakers- there was not a dull moment.
For regular attendees, Lakefly provided incredible value:
- 18 Breakout Sessions, divided between the craft and business sides of writing
- Open mike session in the Oshkosh Public Library’s historic section
- Multiple literary agencies hearing novel pitches and giving advice
- A keynote speaker published by Scholastic
- Included catered Saturday lunch
- Writing Contests with cash prizes
For a city of 66,000, that’s not too shabby. Check out the complete schedule!
Let me elaborate more about my experience, so you know what awaits if you attend next year.
I first attended the breakout session of Tom Cannon, Oshkosh’s inaugural Poet-Laureate, titled “Improve Your Life Through Poetry.” Tom had the audience produce a poem about color and then cut down the word count to make it punchier. With a couple of drafts throughout the afternoon, here’s my poem:
Life pumping through body.
Life seeping from body.
Creation, when managed.
Destruction when not.
Not bad for one day’s work eh? All thanks to Tom’s wonderful guidance.
John DeDakis, native of La Crosse, retired journalist and former editor for CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” echoed Tom’s interactive methods, in his “Characterization Through Dialogue” session. John had us write a little section in which one of our characters auditions for a part in our novel to determine who belongs and who does not.
Here’s what I came up with:
The Dark Defector relaxed in his throne of white marble. “I will allow you to pretend you’re interviewing me. When in truth, you crave explanation for the phenomenon known as existence. Through my inclusion”- he paused to air quote — “I will teach you what you’ve always been afraid to confront.”
I scoff, used to the prickliness. “There have been many like you. Villains with their complicated, nuanced moral choices and codes, oft embracing the dark side of human nature.”
“Sapience’s nature. Use your own terms, millennial.” The Defector’s purple irises gleam, more than his perfect white teeth.
“Sapience’s sins.” I shake my head. “You’re not as novel as you used to be.”
“Life is Vicious. Death is Vicious. Existence is Vicious.” The Defector cocked his head. “I comprehend this truth more than any you will come across. I will explain it far better than any you will ever come across.”
I recommend this exercise if you’re working on a novel or longer piece of fiction with tons of characters. For once, you get to hire and fire! Or consolidate positions!
I chatted with the author of The Truth About Dark Magic short story collection during break. Inspired by The Dresden Files and similar works, paranormal investigator Viktor Krelig will dive into his case files for a magical and dangerous detective journey. Sherlock Holmes might have to up his game!
Kendra Griffin, author and Professor of English at Aims Community College, ran my third and final Friday session entitled “Venturing into Vella.” Being the prepared teacher, Kendra had an extensive handout and exercises but made it clear she wanted the session to be as interactive as possible. Like a true educator, Kendra fielded challenging questions with clarity and warmth. I learned so much about how Amazon’s new platform Kindle Vella for serialized stories works. I was inspired to give it a shot!
Dinner at Becket’s Restaurant involved conversation with fellow authors Laura Rye and Bailey Hansen, who co-wrote Freak Camp and former firefighter Greg Renz, who wrote Beneath the Flames, along with several other writers of various genres. Greg talked about how an agent wanted him to overhaul his work, but Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler convinced him to keep his original vision. Even after the writing’s done, you need to keep your eye on the prize and partner with the correct people to achieve it.
The After Hours Open Mic underneath the dome in the original part of the Oshkosh Public Library wrapped up Friday. In addition to hearing many local and traveling authors, I got to spotlight some of my poetry. Truly a magical ending to a great first night!
Editor, writer and children’s author Dean Robbins commenced the 2nd day with his keynote speech “Ten Unlikely Secrets of Literary Success.” In a long, winding road spanning multiple decades, Dean finally achieved his dreams of becoming a writer while juggling family life and a career contributing to nationally known publications and editing Isthmus magazine. Time and time again, there were setbacks but thanks to baseball slugger Babe Ruth’s legendary advice, Dean never quit:
“It’s (very) hard to beat someone who never gives up.”
Today, Dean writes about his childhood heroes such as Babe, Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas for national publishers, including Scholastic Corporation.
Some more excellent conversation, then I was off to author Ryan R. Campbell’s “Keeping Your Scenes Afloat (with the ‘Five Fun Floaties’ of Scene Structure). Ryan pointed had us consider this rough idea: Walking along a riverfront, John wants to propose to Carla. He has been rejected in the past, so he’s hesitant to ask. However, he overcomes his fear and Carla says yes.
Compelling, though Ryan encouraged us to dig deeper.
He suggested to add a stray dog distracting John, then getting caught in the river, forcing John to jump in and save him. John succeeds, proposes and Carla says yes.
Enough? Ryan had us go a little bit more.
Use all the elements from the previous draft, but have John lose his ring in the river, forcing him and go dive for it. He finds it, proposes and….
It’s up to you where the scene goes. But you get the idea, I’m sure.
I enjoyed a rather succulent lunch of chicken (included with attendance fees I should point out) and networked with Tom and literary agent Dan Cramer, who gave me valuable insight into the world of publishing.
Next up was psychologist and author Maggie Smith’s “Building Your Author Platform Before You’ve Written A Book.” Maggie pointed out that 6–12 months before your book launches, you need to be cultivating a platform via book reviews, appearing on writing podcasts and going to conferences such as Lakefly. Many aspiring writers, myself included, can fall into the trap of “I’ll write it and they will come.” You gotta have more than the text itself these days. Furthermore, Maggie demonstrated the potential audience of her book by having the entire audience stand up and then sit down as they fit various descriptors: male, female over 25, females who have lived one or more years in Chicago until there were only two attendees left, both of whom got a copy of her book Truth and Other Lies.
Then, I moderated the panel “The Business Side of Writing” with historical fiction, mystery adventure and memoir writer Christine Keleny, speculative fiction writer David Michael Williams and the aforementioned John DeDakis. The trifecta proved three heads are superior to one with their in-depth answers to questions about marketing, relaunching a book, obtaining a website and more.
Finally, I assisted with presenting the writing contest awards. It was satisfying to see hard work pay off for contestants with some recognition and cash!
What a whirlwind! For two days, Lakefly transformed writing from solitary to social. I networked, absorbed information and got inspired.
Its FaceBook page states “Everyone has a story. Let us help you tell yours.”
I let the Lakefly Writer’s Conference help me.
Let it help you, too!