Posted by: Kerry Gans | June 7, 2014

Philadelphia Writers’ Conference 2014: Day One

AC at the PWC“Writing is magic.”

So said opening speaker William Lasher at this year’s Philadelphia Writers’ Conference (PWC). Lashner gave a great opening speech, focusing at first on opening lines (since it was the Opening Speech). He said, “A great first line must have the ghost of the whole novel in it.”

Which naturally brought us to MOBY DICK and “Call me Ishmael.”

Lashner gave such a passionate and incisive critique of Herman Melville’s MOBY DICK, that I think everyone wanted to read it by the time he was finished talking! As one audience member said, “That was the best book review I ever heard!”

 Writers listening to opening speaker William Lashner

Writers listening to opening speaker William Lashner

After Lashner’s inspiring speech, where he reminded us that “the writing process requires we listen to the writing and go where it leads us,” we all dispersed to our morning classes.

In recent years, the PWC has been doing a great job diversifying their content and bringing classes more in line with the reality of the publishing world today. The 3-day morning sessions this year are:

  •  Humor: Blogs, Books and Beyond (Donna Cavanaugh)
  • Upping the Ante: Creating and Sustaining Conflict (Alma Katsu)
  • Journalism as a Writing Tool (Patti Mengers)
  • Standing on the Precipice of Literary Translation (Liz Chang)

I took Alma Katsu’s Conflict workshop, and learned a great deal. In what appears to be a theme, she also said, “You create magic.” She also said that we need to analyze what we write, and analyzing will not kill the magic. She stated that writing is both craft and art, and we need to understand the craft to create the art.

small - DSCN9794The lunch break saw many people taking advantage of the wonderful weather to go out to eat. J. Thomas Ross and I hit the Bourse building’s food court, as we often do. Something for everyone! And not nearly as crowded this year as other years.

After lunch, the second session of the 3-day workshops began:

I took Strength of Character, with Judith Schachner. She introduced us to the idea of creating character by creating “bibles” for each major character. This visual and tactile collage notebook opens the mind and helps get around writer’s block and creates serendipitous connections that can lead to unique, strong characters.

I missed the beginning of my last 3-day session, because today was also agent-editor pitch day. The PWC has also been adding more diversity to this line-up, with a mix of fiction and non-fiction agents and publishers. I was lucky enough to speak to two people. Agent Connor Goldsmith of Foreword Literary doesn’t rep my genre, but was kind enough to allow me to practice my pitch on him. Denise Camacho of Intrigue Publishing liked my YA pitch enough to ask me to send my manuscript. I really enjoyed speaking to both of them, and it has reinforced what more experienced writers try to tell the newbies: agents and publishers are people, too!

I joined my final 3-day session in progress. The last group of 3-day sessions are:

  • Writing the Short Film (David Greenberg)
  • Creating Characters that Keep Fans Reading (Austin Camacho)
  • The I’s of the Muse: Planning and Writing Nonfiction (Katherine Ramsland)
  • Poetry: Authenticating Rhythm in Free Verse Poetry (Paul Martin)

In my session, Austin Camacho discussed the 3 ways a character is seen, and how authors can “show” us a character rather without ever “telling” us anything about them. I missed about half the class because of my two pitch sessions, but am eager for the next two days!

small - DSCN9802Today there were two single-day classes: The Six Word Memoir by Kathleen Sheeder-Bonnano, and Book Trailers and Audio Books by Dave Girgio. I took the 45-minute Book Trailer and Audio Book session, and let me tell you, it needs to be a 3-day session! Dave squeezed a lot of information into the 45+ minutes we stayed, but the bottom line was this: it is a crowded market out there—if you are going to do a book trailer or an audio book, make sure it is high quality.

Tonight also saw the Agent & Editor dinner panel and the evening Raps. But since I had to get my child, I did not stay for those. If anyone who did attend wants to tell us about them in the comments, feel free!

Writing is magic—and we get to create the magic. Are we lucky or what?

The magic continues tomorrow!



  1. Kerry, love this! “A great first line must have the ghost of the whole novel in it.” Sounds like a wonderful conf! Lots to glean 🙂


    • I’m loving it. And, yes, lots to glean. Makes my head hurt–in a good way! 🙂


  2. […] Chronicler Kerry Gans did such a thorough job on her posts about Day One, Day Two, and Day Three, that I’d have little to add — except that we often attended […]


  3. […] Mr. William Lashner kicked things off with a rousing speech that touched on the magic of writing, starting with the importance of opening lines, and ending with the plea to “listen to the writing and go where it leads” you.  One of these years I’ll be able to catch an opening speaker, but the web was abuzz with great feedback, including this one by 4th year conferee Kerry Gans. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: