Linda: Notes from Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference 2014, part two

Juneau members Maureen Longworth and Joan Pardes

It’s hard to believe that the 2014 Kachemak Bay Writers’
Conference is already winding down and will be over after lunch today. Last
night culminated in a silent auction offering items from a variety of beautiful
poetry broadsides to a kuspuk crafted by Debby Dahl Edwardson herself, followed
by the second faculty reading, and ended with a party downstairs. Alas, weather
forced the cancellation of the traditional beach bonfire that signifies the
last hurrah of the conference. It’s a testament to the dedication of faculty and writers that when the power went out in the middle of the
panel on “Writing and Violence,” both panelists and audience continued without
missing a beat. Lights and mics were later restored during the evening readings.
A highlight for me has been seeing so many members and supporters of 49 Writers from around the state in one place (34 current members here at the last count), and getting to meet some of you for the first time. Conference conversations never fail to stimulate new ideas for programming and partnering, and to remind us that there’s a vibrant community of writers out there who are generous in their support of each other and our work in progress.
Kudos again to conference organizer Carol Swartz and her amazing team—in particular Erin Hollowell and Sherry Simpson—who keep the proceedings rolling along. It’s often hard to choose between the many excellent panels and presentations on offer, and my bias of course is creative nonfiction. Of necessity, this post is shorter than intended—it’s a challenge to participate fully and to blog at the same time. So a summary of some sessions will follow in Friday’s news roundup. We invite anyone in attendance to submit a blog post about a particular session or speaker who moves them to write and share their insights. (Just email 

It was a dark and stormy night…

Anchorage members Sue Magestro and Scott Banks

The First Pages session always attracts a good turnout of writers wanting to learn from the mistakes of others and to identify the kind of prose that makes agents and editors want to read more. This year’s panel consisted of freelance editor Heidi Bell, literary agent Katherine Fausset, and Peggy Shumaker – editor of the Boreal Books imprint of Red Hen Press and series editor for the Alaska Literary Series at the University of Alaska Press. As Peggy insisted, “Look at us – we’re not that scary, are we??” Indeed, they were firm about what worked and what confused them, offering praise and constructive criticism as approprate.

The first pages that elicited positive feedback had the following characteristics:

  • Located the reader in geography right away
  • Made us care about the character
  • Communicated that there was something at stake
  • Combined polished prose with compelling detail
  • Set up tension in a way that the readers wanted to know what happens to the character; well paced, strategic release of information.
Suggestions for improvement:
  • Avoid confusing regional details (how many readers are familiar with Bogue Banks?)
  • Omit details that aren’t vital to the story, don’t move it forward
  • Ditto for dialogue, which should also be natural and unstilted
  • Work on developing the character’s voice fully
  • Convince your reader that the scene described could really happen
  • If your character is grieving, allow your reader to share in that grief
  • Make sure your grammar is above criticism.
P.S. Please double-space your manuscript!
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