The Northern Colorado Writers Conference

Rev up your writing in the Rockies. by Linda Formichelli
Publish date:

WHEN: April 3–4, 2009
WHERE: Hilton Fort Collins, 425 W. Prospect Road, Fort Collins, Colo.
HOW MUCH: Northern Colorado Writers members: $225 before March 13, $245 after; nonmembers: $275 before March 13, $295 after. Saturday only (members and nonmembers): $210 before March 13, $230 after.

Four years ago, Kerrie Flanagan decided she was tired of driving hours to the nearest writing conferences, and started daydreaming of a conference in her Fort Collins hometown. She partnered with children’s author Debbie Dadey and organized a small event with sessions on magazine writing (Flanagan’s specialty) and children’s writing. It was a hit among the small band of 45 writers who attended.

This year, Flanagan expects to attract between 150 and 175 participants, and not just locals: the conference draws attendees from Utah, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska and even Canada. While the first outing offered workshops on only two topics, the 2009 conference boasts panels and sessions about everything from humor and poetry to marketing nonfiction. Speakers include Hilary Oswald, editor of Colorado Homes & Lifestyles; Jon Sternfeld of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency; Cara McDonald, editor-at-large of 5280 magazine; and children’s author Linda White.

The conference has a lot to offer beginning writers. “There were so many people who helped me when I started writing,” Flanagan says. “This is a way to give back and just kind of pay it forward. I want to be available to help people who are where I was 10 years ago.”

Workshops include “Let’s Write a Mystery,” where local mystery writer Pat Stoltey discusses the components of the genre, and “Architecture of Fiction,” in which agent Jeffery McGraw explores the art of crafting a solid novel—from developing conflict, plot and character to balancing narration, action, symbolism and theme.

For more advanced writers, there’s “Transform Your Writing With Improv,” taught by Sara Alan and Pam Farone, Denver-based writers and improv actors. “This is for you if you’re feeling blocked creatively, or you would like to deepen your connection to your characters and their voices,” Flanagan explains. “This workshop is designed to get you out of your chair and into the world of your story and character. The idea is to get students up and put them in different scenarios, acting out different scenes.”

To get even more creative, check out the poetry slam, where attendees read their work aloud and Denver’s poet laureate, Chris Ransick (also the keynote speaker), offers feedback. If you favor prose over poetry, “Agents Read the Slush Pile” features literary agents critiquing the first two pages of attendees’ novels.

“It feels like the ‘American Idol’ of the conference,” Flanagan says. Writers can also receive constructive criticism in pitch sessions, which give each attendee 10 minutes to propose his idea to an agent.

Other sessions include a magazine writing panel with local magazine editors; “Creating Vivid Worlds,” where author Laura Resau shares strategies for enriching setting and character through imagery and description; “Author, Edit Thyself,” designed to help writers understand the prevailing pitfalls in grammar; and “Write Up Close & Personal,” detailing inspirational writing.

To get the most out of the conference, Flanagan stresses that writers should take advantage of all the opportunities offered. “For instance, we do networking after dinner,” she says. “Those are the times where you can casually talk with an agent, a magazine editor or another writer. You can gain some valuable information.” She adds that the same applies for the closing keynote—many writers skip out on it, but it can be valuable and inspiring to those who attend.

Finally, be ready to learn. “As long as a writer—whether they’ve published 10 books or are just starting out—comes into the conference with an open mind, everybody can get something out of it,” Flanagan says.