Last weekend (June 6-7) I attended the Arkansas Writers’ Conference in Little Rock.  The conference celebrated its 70th year in 2014.  It was small, but there were some worthwhile elements, including 15+ presentations, 35 contests, and a visit from Governor Beebe.  I missed out on the last two items in that list, but I did glean some useful information from the speakers I attended.  Here are a few of my favorites.

“There are no ‘special snowflakes’ in publishing.”  (Sandy Longhorn)

The Published Poem: How to Write It, How to Get It Published, Sandy Longhorn

One of Longhorn’s main points is to do your research, find out submission requirements, and follow them!  You may have written THE great American novel (poem, essay, short story, screenplay), but that does not give you a pass in the publication process.  At the conference, Longhorn discussed poetry publication specifically.  Poets begin publishing in literary and regional journals and she suggests identifying potential matches in Poets & Writers Tools for Writers section and indices of Pushcart Prize anthologies.  When you’ve reached the point when you are ready to publish a book-length work, Sandy suggests checking out Small Press Distribution for likely fits.  Regardless of where you choose to submit, remember to follow the guidelines.  Not only is it a sign of respect, it also lets the publisher know you are willing to work with them throughout the process.

Longhorn also suggested some useful books for those who are still honing their skills:

E-Publishing Tips & Tricks for Beginners, Heather Sutherlin.

Walking beginners through the steps of epub, Sutherlin brought up some points worth noting including the unnecessary isbn, a brief discussion of DRM, ACX, and the importance of checking chapter breaks, headings, table of contents, etc., for all formats in which you are publishing.  Along with this, she discussed different available tools for formatting ebooks, particularly KDP/KDP Select, Smashwords (she wasn’t a fan), and a newcomer to the game, Draft 2 Digital (she was a fan).  David Gaughran provides a good, unbiased comparison of the two on his blog.  (This was published in August, 2013, and according to Heather, D2D has made some improvements.)

 Impulse + Structure = Productivity  (Phillip H. McMath)

Three speakers discussed characterization.  Tamara Hart Heiner gave a severely abridged version of her talk, managing to squeeze enough information about Establishing Voice with Multiple Main Characters to make me regret that circumstances beyond her control had forced her to condense 45 minutes into 15.

Jan Morrill gave a hands-on (my favorite kind!) workshop on Interviewing your Characters.  The concept seems pretty self-explanatory and simple, but I found it useful and intend to use the method again.  Some of the keys to success:

  • Before you being, write down several questions you want to ask.
  • Envision an interview setting in which your character will be comfortable.  (Writing down the description may help you get in the spirit of the thing and give you a nice warm-up besides.)
  • Carry on a conversation.  Ask your question, and listen to the answer.  Don’t try to force your character’s response.  Ask further questions based on answers rather than sticking adamantly to the agenda.
  • Record the conversation without lifting pen from paper or fingers from keyboard.
  • Don’t censor or edit.

The Seven Characters Needed to Tell a Story, Del Garrett

Garrett opened with the assertion that a Hero is a reactant character, one that needs something to react to.  He emphasized strong development of the villain.  His seven characters fulfill the demands of the Hero’s Journey structure and include:

  • Hero (protagonist)
  • Sidekick
  • Villain
  • Minion
  • Damsel in distress
  • Mentor

[Yes.  There are only 6 listed.  I got a little distracted, apparently, and my notes are incomplete.  Sorry.]  Something to remember–that “damsel” does not have to be a female or feminine, nor does the hero have to be male/masculine.  These are roles, but how they are filled is up to the author.  Garrett also suggested a couple of books:


“If you were the last person on earth, could you get the lid off that pickle jar?”  (Cara Brookins’ dad)

 Building Your Dreams, Cara Brookins

Brookins presentation was definitely of the motivational ilk, a “genre” I’m not particularly fond of.  But her approach to dream-come-true-ing is rooted in hard work, hard experience, and hope.  Because of this, she turned out to be one of my favorite speakers.  I’m not going to retell her story, but if you get a chance to hear her, take it.  I will share a few of the nuggets from her talk.

  • Dream big.  I admit, I hate this line.  But add to it a purpose and it moves beyond pie-in-the-sky positive thinking.  Wimpy dreams are the stuff of fearful hearts.  Be honest!  Set real goals, things you really want, not goals you know you can reach because you are afraid of failure.
  • Your effort must match your goal.  Recognize that you are going to have to work extremely hard to make that big dream happen.  It may shock you when you first realize what building your dream will take; it will certainly require more than you originally expected.  Don’t let it overwhelm you.
  • “Use a Sharpie.”  Be committed.  Set the goal, face the reality of the effort required, and do it!  Be all in.  No pencils allowed.  Once you have a dream/goal, exhaust everything in you to reach it.
  • “Your future is an achievement, not a gift.”

One of the great things about writers’ conferences is the opportunity they provide to move a little further from the fantasy of writing and a little closer to the reality of it.  Brookins’ and the other presenters at ACW 2014 did a great job of making that happen.


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