James River Writers Conference 2018

Fall is a busy time for writers. A big highlight took place in mid-October when the annual James River Writers Conference was held at the Richmond Convention Center. 360 people attended this year. Four out of the six Master Classes sold out. Nearly all of the agent appointments were booked up.

Robert Toms and I worked as volunteers for the Silent Auction. Available were twenty items for bidders in three categories: experiences, services and products. This event is a fundraiser for JRW.

The conference featured many interesting sessions. Here are my thoughts about one of them. This session was called “Writing the Unfamiliar.” The speakers were Lamar Giles, Virginia Pye and Laurie Gwen Shapiro. The panel was moderated by Patty Smith.

I enjoyed this workshop for its fresh ideas and hearing about other writers’ know-how. All three writers spoke about experiences they sought out in order to learn more about their subject, including setting, before they wrote their own fiction or nonfiction.

Lamar Giles, a successful YA writer, developed a character who was a teenage gambler. He decided to do more research about gambling than what he could find by doing internet searches. He traveled to Las Vegas and asked questions of people working in the casinos about what the gambling experiences were really like. He soaked up the casino atmosphere. He was pleased that he’d traveled west to give more authenticity to his character.

Laurie Shapiro, a documentary filmmaker and nonfiction writer, told a rollicking story about her decision to visit Antarctica to get the feel of the mysterious setting. Her travels helped her write her first nonfiction book titled The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica. She felt it was worth spending half of her advance to finance a trip to Antarctica.

Virginia Pye talked about telling someone else’s story. She discussed writing her grandparents’ story about their time living in China. She pored over their diaries and wrote two novels based on what they wrote. Virginia also spoke about the value of reading good fiction, which can give writers a sense of place when it’s not possible for them to visit.

She also talked about writing a short story based on an event involving her son. After reading the story, he asked her not to write about him any more. He wanted to tell his own stories.

A big audience attended this session. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did.

James River Writers is so close to their 2018 donation goal. Please consider donating to their wonderful organization by clicking this link.

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