Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Jackson Hole Writers Conference Experience

June 28-30, 2012

There are a lot of reasons a person might choose one writing conference over another. Let me tell you, location really is everything. Jackson, Wyoming is an ideal place for a writing con. With breathtaking views and intimate access to faculty -- I couldn't have asked for more from my only planned conference this year.
Arriving in Jackson Hole
I'm a week out from my return and I must say it was much more than I could have hoped for. It was a little costly due to the travel expenses, but quite satisfying in the end. There were a lot of reasons for my decision to fly cross-country to a relatively (but not really) small writing conference where I knew no one and had no connections. And that ended up being the best reason for doing it. Other reasons included: the chance to tag on a Grand Teton/Yellowstone family vacation, the teen writer program (my thirteen-year-old niece was able to join me), the affordable critique program (with top agents, writers, and editors), the fantastic "beer tent" student readings, and intimate access to authors like Anita Diamant, Brandon Mull, Kyle Mills, and so many others.

I met a lot of wonderful people, got some great feedback, and I learned a lot that I actually didn't already know. That's the issue with doing an annual conference circuit, right? You start to hear the same things over and over. I was pleasantly surprised by my experience in Wyoming and learned and heard candid thoughts and opinions that were actually new to me after several summers of conference hopping. It was a good mix of all kinds of writers: poetry, Literary, commercial, screen, nonfiction, and YA. I even chatted with a southern writer who lives not too far from me. It ended up being a terrific hub of inspiring and supportive people. 

The panels and workshops touched on business and craft, and allowed a good bit of social time to make new connections and rekindle old ones. And the Arts Center where the conference was held was just a few blocks from anything one might want or need while away from home. With a cocktail party, wine and cheese nature walk, and a buffet dinner -- there was plenty to keep busy each evening when venturing out at night alone wasn't preferable.

Banner over the main congregation area at the Art Center
The keynotes and panels were what one would expect but seemed to sparkle a little more than previous experiences at similar sized conferences. Maybe I was looking to be inspired, but I think after JHWC's twenty years of experience --  organizers just do a great job of selecting dynamic speakers. Every writer should hear Dennis Pulumbo's Cosmic Rules of Writing. You'll be hard pressed to find a better more relatable writer, speaker or person than Michael Perry. Anita Diamant and Brandon Mull are gems of down to earth humans that are so generous with their time it seems incongruent that they are such rockstars in the industry. Naomi Shiyab Nye had my geologist husband on the edge of his chair with excitement about poetry, art, and life and Margaret Coel's knowledge as a writer with a fascinating lifelong career seems an endless well. I feel so lucky to have chosen this year and this faculty as my first JHWC experience. It'll stick with me for many years to come. Writers as a rule are pretty awesome -- but the collection in Wyoming this late June was impressive.

My specific critique experience put me in contact with invaluable feedback from writers Catherine McKenzie and Lise McClendon and agent Robert Guinsler. To boot, I had an extended critique I'll never forget over lunch with bestselling thriller writer Kyle Mills -- whose advice and honesty impacted me greatly. If that's not enough, Tim Sandlin might be the most generous and accessible conference organizer I've encountered to date. My experiences with getting my critiques lined up, getting my niece settled and comfortable, and all communications orienting me with what to expect were easy and friendly.

The Alpine House - our home away
All in all, I couldn't have asked for more from my one chosen writing conference experience this summer. I had told myself after the last few years of pounding the pavement from conference to conference that I'd take a break this summer and chose only one. I had a big year last year and needed a less overwhelming networking and travel schedule. What a conference to chose! It filled the space of a whole summer and has given me more to ponder and reflect on than I could have ever hoped for. There were so many high points and valuable connections and experiences made -- this little blog update doesn't touch them all. Clearly, I'd highly recommend the JHWC.

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