When I attended my first Writing the Rockies Conference at Western State Colorado University, back in 2012, it was a three day event, with panels and workshops on genre fiction, screenwriting, and poetry. It had a couple of publishing workshops, too, but the poetry symposium was a major event. You could sign up for critiques and pitch sessions with small presses and agents, and they served delicious sack lunches made by Western State’s great kitchen staff. Every year since, the conference has gotten bigger, including more and more great events for authors, poets, screenwriters and publishers future.
The 2016 Writing the Rockies Conference has continued in that growth trend. Director of Western State’s M.F.A. in Creative Writing program and head organizer of the conference, David J. Rothman tells us that Writing the Rockies is now the most diverse of all college hosted writing conferences, boasting writing workshops, keynotes and panels, 3-day intensive workshops and critical seminars in five individual concentrations: genre fiction, screenwriting, creative nonfiction, publishing, in addition to their wonderful poetry symposium. It is now five day event, which takes advantage of inspirational surroundings of the beautiful Gunnison Valley, with one whole day for group hikes in the beautiful area surrounding near-by Crested Butte. Gone are the sack lunches of the past, but the food is still good, with Western’s kitchen staff providing both breakfast and lunch for conference attendees.
The conference is so packed full of wonderful writing events and opportunities that no one can do them all. Aspiring writers must pick and choose those events that will be most beneficial to them. I had the pleasure of attending events in all five concentrations, creating a well-rounded educational experience, from which I learned a lot.
I started off with the genre fiction panel, which featured three former presidents of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America – authors James Gunn, Robin Wayne Bailey and Russell Davis gave a grand overview of the history of SFWA and the science fiction genre. I was also privileged to attend the screenwriting panel, featuring screenwriters for both feature films and television – J.D. Payne, Alan Wartes and J.S. Mayank, where we discussed how to take notes on your screenplay or series, who to take notes from, and ways to politely disregard notes that are detrimental to the structure of your script.
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend Conference Keynote, by George Sibley, or the Poetry Keynote, by Julie Kane on Wednesday evening. If they were anywhere near the quality and usefulness of the four Keynotes I did hear, then I have truly missed out.
Fulcrum Press Editor Rebecca McEwen
Publishing Keynote Speaker
The Publishing Keynote was given by Fulcrum Press editor, Rebecca McEwen, who talked about the value of small presses and when you might want to consider submitting press that is not among the big five. According to McEwen, there are currently 30 small independent publishers in Colorado.
Author Robin Wayne Bailey
Genre Fiction Keynote Speaker
The Creative Nonfiction Keynote was delivered by author Broughton Coburn, who has created story from many of the events in his extraordinary life and turned them into bestselling books. His touching story of bringing an elderly Indian woman to America with him, brought smiles to all faces in the audience. He talked about finding common threads in your true-life story which can then be used to tie things together as you put the story on the page.
Author Broughton Coburn
Creative Nonfiction Keynote Speaker
Author Robin Wayne Bailey, gave an inspiring Genre Fiction Keynote on the importance of life experience in writing, and how moving writing can be, coming near to tears himself as he spoke of times past as he recounted parts of his own personal history for emphasis. And, there were chuckles from the audience throughout screenwriter J.D. Payne’s Screenwriting Keynote on the journey to becoming a screenwriter, ways to handle the criticism and rejection that are so very prominent in the Industry, and how to take notes, another big part of writing for television or film.
Screenwriter J.D. Payne
Screenwriting Keynote Speaker
I attended a genre fiction workshop and two screenwriting workshops, since these are my major concentrations. The first screenwriting workshop, led by screenwriter, Mary Beth Fielder, was on the transformational arc that every story and every major character needs to have. She talked about looking at the subtext to indicate what’s really going on in each scene, and how to use basic human needs to determine what your characters goals are.
The second screenwriting workshop, on creating conflict, was led by screenwriter J.S. Mayank, pointing out that in story we do the opposite of what we do in real life. In real life, we tend to avoid conflict, while in story we invite it. To provide examples of scenes with well-crafted conflict, video clips from several different movies were shown, some that made us laugh, others that made us want to cry.
J.D. Payne, J. S. Mayank, and Alan Wartse
Screenwriting Panel at the
2016 Writing the Rockies Conference
The genre fiction workshop, on creating complex female characters, led by women’s fiction author Candace Nadon. She talked about the female stereotypes used in creating female characters, and ways to recognize and avoid them in your writing. Most of her advice for creating strong female characters, was in the form of what not to do, proving that there is a fine line to balance strength and feminity.
Screenwriter and co-organizer of the Crested Butte Film Festival, Michael Body was both educational and entertaining in his screening lecture. He used actual clips submitted to the festival for consideration. Two of the clips were humorous, but the other one was just plain bad, illustrating well the many reasons films do, or don’t get into film festivals. The bad one was so bad that the audience elected not to finish watching it.
Screenwriter Michael Brody
Co-Founder of The Crested Butte Film Festival
Along with everything else, the talent featured at the Writing the Rockies Conference also grows each year. In addition to the genre fiction and screenwriting names above, this year’s poetry symposium featured were renowned poets and critics, such as A.M. Juster, Jan Schreiber, John Talbot, Bruce Bennett, Christopher Norris, Emily Grosholz, Thomas Cable, Paul Edwards, Natalie Gerber, Niles Ritter, Frederick Turner, Richard Wakefield, and Robert Maranto.
Of the thirty publishers in Colorado today, at least seven were represented at the 2016 Writing the Rockies Conference: Conundrum Press Publisher, Caleb Seeling; Fulcrum Press editor, Rebecca McEwen; Slant News editor, Kyle Harvey; Dave Trendler, of VeloPress; Fred Ramey of Unbridled Books; Lithic Press Publisher, Danny Rosen; and Senior Acquisitions Editor of NavPress, David Zimmerman.
Creative Nonfiction is a new concentration which was added this year, featuring award-winning author, Kase Johnstun; essayist, Kelsey Bennett; and nature writer, Alissa Johnson. Genre fiction authors not mentioned above included Clay Reynolds; children’s author, Stacia Deutsch; and speculative fiction author, Michaela Roessner.
The 2016 Writing the Rockies Conference appeared to be a great success. It holds many opportunities for aspiring writers, and 2017 promises to have e1ven more, becoming larger and more prestigious than ever before. I anticipate 2017 conference attendees will have quite a treat in store.
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