Ann Arbor Writer’s Conference: If You’re a Writer, Don’t Miss It (Just Because I Am)

I’m missing this year’s Ann Arbor Writer’s Conference May 15 at University of Michigan to attend Carrie’s college graduation at Syracuse University. I even turned down an invitation to be a speaker again. If you want to learn about how to negotiate a book contract, you’ll have to wait for another appearance by me. Or, better yet, join the National Writers Union, where members from the Grievance and Contract Division, who know book contracts better than any group of folks probably anywhere in the world, will explain to you what every clause in your contract means and how to negotiate for a better contract.

In the meantime, just because I’m missing the Ann Arbor Writer’s Conference doesn’t mean you have to miss it, too. If you’re a writer and you’re anywhere near the Ann Arbor area, don’t miss the opportunity to learn from the pros.

The day begins at 8:30 a.m. with the author’s breakfast at Hatcher Graduate Library. There speakers for the day join attendees to share their writing experiences and describe their work.

Following the breakfast are three sessions, the first beginning at 10:15 and the last ending at 3:15. As with all great conferences, this one provides the frustration of offering more talks than one person can attend; each session has four separate talks so you have to pick and choose. The best way to benefit from them is to attend with friends and swap notes afterwards.

The sessions will meet at Mason/Haven Halls on the University of Michigan Central Campus and will be followed by an hour-long panel called “I’ve Finished My Book (Article, Essay, Etc.): Now What Do I Do?” featuring Ellen Meeropol, Ann Pearlman, and Bonnie Jo Campbell and moderated by Mary Bisbee-Beek

Following is a list of the topics that will fill the sessions along with descriptions written by the presenters. For bios of the speakers and locations of the sessions, visit the website:

10:15 am – 11:30 am – SESSION 1

A. Feel the Power of Flooding the Page with your Thoughts – Debbie Merion

In this workshop, you will experiment with the freedom to write the worst junk in America. Get ready to be surprised with what emerges. Ironically, the most present, compelling first drafts result from quieting the censor in our heads. We’ll write as a group — a powerful experience — and then listen intensely to recall exact words and phrases heard. The goal is to learn nonjudgmental writing and feedback techniques that lead to vivid writing.

B. Beginning the Novel – Vasugi V. Ganeshananthan

The first hundred pages of a novel are make or break. What works? What doesn’t? What information does a novelist put into the “beginning” of the story? We’ll look at the beginnings of books by a range of authors and talk about pacing, themes, language, style, plot, and character. You don’t have to read the whole book to appreciate a good beginning — that’s the point. Readings to be provided at the session.

C. Methods of vision & (re)vision – Aracelis Girmay

The work of revising is an exceptionally rigorous practice. I’d like for this workshop to serve as a space where we can explore methods of revision as a highly imaginative, exciting, &, sometimes, political practice. This workshop will be a generative workshop focused on the practice of surprising or honing the eye/I. It will be an opportunity for us to study a very small selection of high-stakes, beautiful work by Lucille Clifton, Nazim Hikmet, & Frida Kahlo. We will use these works as models to guide us through our in-workshop experiments. It will also be a chance for us to experiment with methods of revising lines, histories, & images.

D. Brainstorming, Work, and Creativity: Thinking Outside of the Box – Chloe Miller

Right brained or left, it doesn’t matter – being creative is essential in the current economy. Access your inner poet and your muse with poet and entrepreneur, Chloe Miller will lead a discussion of how to connect creativity with business planning and the generation of concrete ideas. This is a hands-on, interactive, process-driven voyage of discovery. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves.


11:45 am – 1:00 pm – SESSION 2

A. Why Writers Write and Why It Is Important – Walter Palesch

During this session, Walter Palesch will share his philosophy on the relevance of writing today. What are the goals of the writer when telling a story and the responsibilities one has to the integrity of the characters? He will discuss the importance of careful research when developing a historical novel. Finally, once the work is complete, what are the strategies you can use for getting your work into your readers’ hands, both in the publishing and marketing areas?

B. Crash Course for Aspiring Writers – Jeannie Ballew

Do you have a secret book in you that you’re longing to write but haven’t because it feels so daunting? In this workshop, you will be introduced to a powerful book coaching process that will show you how to produce a rough draft of your entire non-fiction manuscript within two weeks. You will start by identifying your readership and work through specified steps to a complete finished rough draft.

C. YA Beyond Vampires – How to Write Uniquely – Darryl Markowitz

Is the purpose of art met in today’s Young Adult literature? How can you write a unique work of literary art? In this workshop, participants will briefly discuss the writer as a literary artist. There will also be a writing exercise in creating compelling characters with moral/social views that you can continue to develop in later works.

D. The Girl with No Hands – Rachel McKibbens

This workshop will take a look at the cultural and literary significance of magical realism, as well as provide participants with writing exercises that ignite the use of startling imagery. We will also discuss the importance of cutting loose the binds of “truth” by allowing the fantastic to co-exist with the factual.


2:00 pm – 3:15 pm – SESSION 3

A. Make the Most of Your Writing Time – Margaret Yang

You’ve blocked out your writing time – five hours on a weekend or five minutes between errands – and then something happens to derail your good intentions. It’s too noisy. Your spouse wants to talk. You can’t think of what to write about. What are you going to do? This workshop will provide tips for making the most of the writing hours (or minutes) that you’ve worked so hard to obtain. We will discuss why “just doing it” isn’t enough and how to use your environment to your advantage. A small amount of planning pays off in increased productivity.

B. Drawing Fictional Characters – Ann Pearlman

Characters in novels keep us reading the stories. They are often what we remember about a favorite book. What makes a good character so compelling to the reader and how does the writer successfully create believable people on the page? Fiction writer/memoirist/biographer Ann Pearlman, author of the highly successful The Christmas Cookie Club, will take you through the experience of developing sound characters with their own personalities, even bringing her own tricks and exercises to get you started.

C. Breaking New Ground in Nonfiction – Micki Maynard

For nonfiction writers, getting past the conventional wisdom can be a challenge. What are the best methods to draw new conclusions about what may seem to be familiar subjects and get past the status quo? This session will offer helpful advice on the kind of research an author must do to build a case, break new ground, and have the courage to stand behind their conclusions.

D. Don’t Succumb! Finetuning Story Ideas – John Hilton

Finding a compelling story line can be the biggest challenge in writing nonfiction. There’s no formula for finding fresh insights and building an engaging narrative, but a longtime magazine editor offers some thoughts on the perils of clichés and the rewards of thinking for yourself. Attendees are encouraged to bring their ideas for nonfiction stories and they will be (constructively) considered, discussed, and tweaked.

Much more Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday. Check the Ann Arbor Book Festival website for all of the details.

And let me know how it was.

I’ll see you there next year. My new book will be out by then.

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