Posted by: Kerry Gans | June 7, 2019

Philadelphia Writers’ Conference 2019: Day One

Today was opening day for the 2019 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference (PWC), held at the Wyndham Hotel in Philadelphia, PA. Often Fridays are a little sparse, as people can’t get out of work, but this year the seats seemed satisfyingly full.

My morning began a half hour before my alarm went off, with my daughter waking me up saying she didn’t feel well and probably shouldn’t go to school. My husband stepped up and took off work so I could still go to the conference, so I still managed to arrive on time! (My gal is feeling a lot better now, thankfully.)

A writers’ conference is a patchwork affair, in that the courses offered are different squares that make up a whole quilt. As usual with the PWC, there is something for everyone (see full day schedule below), and often when I write these recaps I struggle to find a through-line that ties it all together. Today I had no such struggle, as the theme of the day was clear before I even finished my last class.

Today’s theme is perspective. How we each have our own perspective, and why that matters.

Opening speaker Asali  Solomon started us off, admitting that in the troubled times we are living in she has wondered: Do the things we write matter? Her answer: Yes. Confusing times are a call to arms for writers. For it is writers who will chronicle the old world and imagine the new.

We each have our own perspective on the times we live in, and whether we share the truth of our experiences in personal essays, memoirs, or more indirectly through fiction, that is an important record of the times. And writers imagine what we humans could be, at our best, giving us all something to strive toward—a guiding light in troubled times.

I then attended Elements of Plot, taught by the cheerful and knowledgeable Shirley Hailstock. The plot elements do not include perspective, but in a way they do, because the way an author chooses to tell a story—the characters we write, the plot points we conjure—can’t help but be embedded in some way with our personal perspective of the world.

Lunch found me and fellow Author Chronicler J. Thomas Ross at the Bourse building food court. Last year the Bourse was closed for renovation, and it has certainly changed! The new food court has a vast diversity of foods from all over the world. From my picky-eater perspective, this was frightening (where did my Sbarro pizza go!?) but my diversity-embracing perspective saw this as a celebration of the American Melting Pot that welcomed immigrants and tourists from around the world.

After lunch I went to Jonathan Maberry’s Art of the Pitch class. Jonathan has this insane idea that pitching is fun and spent the hour trying to convince us that he was correct. He gave great advice on how to think about your story prior to pitching, and gave performance tips to best draw the agent or editor in to your pitch. Several people successfully took his advice to real pitch sessions that were going on today.

Jonathan’s main point (for me) was that changing your perspective about pitching changes the stress level you have when pitching. Thinking of a pitch session as a conversation with an agent rather than an interview, and remembering that YOU are the expert on your book, can change your perspective and maybe even render pitching…fun.

Kathryn Craft’s Mining for Story Fuel in Your Character’s Backstory came up next, and that was literally all about perspective. Kathryn contends that our characters are not people, but perspectives, and we will investigate this idea more fully in the next two days. Perspective colors everything in your story, and is intimately tied to your story’s premise.

My final class of the day was Op. Ed. Writing with Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Page editor Sandy Shea. She discussed how the Inquirer chooses which topics to cover and the power of the public conversation had on the Opinion pages. To write a successful Op. Ed., it boils down to conveying the stakes about the issues and your authority in the matter—and your personal experiences give you authority. In other words, your perspective.

What I heard over and over today was that our unique perspectives matter. Whether we are chronicling the interesting times we live in for posterity or writing a letter to the editor about the gaping potholes in local roads, our experiences, our words, our thoughts, are important. No one else has lived the life we have, has experienced this world as we have. Confidently bringing this perspective to our writing is what makes our writing powerful.

I cannot wait to see what new perspectives on writing—and on life—Day Two brings.

Friday’s Full Schedule

9:30 AM – Opening Remarks: Asali Solomon

Three Day Workshops

11 AM
The Ekphrastic Selfie: Life Writing from a Photograph – Miah Jeffra
Elements of Plot – Shirley Hailstock
Creating a Series for Network, Cable, or Streaming – Dianne Walsh
Erasure Poetry and Power – Jennifer McCreary
Writing Inspiration for Tweens and Teens – Donna Galanti

1:30 PM
Romance Writing and Publishing Today: Why Him? Why Her? Why You? – Terri Brisbin
The Writer’s Business Plan: The Art of the Pitch – Jonathan Maberry
Magazine Writing – Debra Wallace
Short Story: I Wanna Know What Love Is – August Tarrier
Indie Filmmaking – Mara Leseman

2:00-5:00 PM – Agents and Editors Pitch Sessions

3:00 PM
This is the Year You Write Your Memoir – Lori Tharps
Mining for Story Fuel in Your Character’s Past – Kathryn Craft
Screenplay Writing – David Greenberg
The Poem as a Visual Object – Warren Longmire
The Deadly Art of Writing Horror: What is Horror? – Brian McKinley

Single Day Workshops

4:15 PM
Characterization from an Actor’s Perspective – Gail Priest
Op. Ed. Writing – Sandy Shea
MASTER CLASS: Make it Weird, Make it Your Own: Experiments in Voice and Form – Mike Ingram

6:00-8:00 PM – Agents and Editors Buffet

8:00-10:00 PM – Fiction and Poetry Raps

 


Responses

  1. […] and, by chance, chose most of the same sessions. Since Kerry did such a fine job of summing up Day One, Day Two, and Day Three of the conference, I’m going to give you a pictorial […]

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  2. […] you missed our coverage of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, here are Days One, Two, and […]

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