2019 James River Writers Conference Schedule

The James River Writers Conference is designed to help you reach your writing goals, whatever they may be. To assist you in choosing from a variety of sessions, we’ve grouped them into tracks. You may want to follow a certain track throughout the conference to get an in-depth look at one aspect of writing. Or you might choose a few panels from each track to get a well-rounded experience. Then again, feel free to ignore the tracks altogether and follow your favorite speakers. As always, you select the sessions that are most relevant to your circumstances.

This year’s tracks are The Art of Craft, Sustaining A Writing Life, The Business Side of Writing, Exploring Form.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

8:00–8:45 a.m.  Coffee & Light Breakfast Buffet

Room: Lobby

8:15–8:45 a.m.  Newcomers Gathering

Room: E10C

8:45– 9:15 a.m.  Welcome and announcement of Best Self-Published Novel Contest Winner

Room: E10A-B

9:15–9:30 a.m.  Break

9:30–10:30 a.m.  Breakout Sessions and Shoptalk

Shoptalk (NEW)

Room: E10D

With an add-on Shoptalk Access ticket, you can talk with writing and publishing experts about topics of interest to you. In the Shoptalk room, you’ll find writers, editors, independent publishing experts, and others who can help with your special questions and challenges.

Compelling Characters

Speakers: Philippa Ballantine, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Padma Venkatraman

Moderator: Kristin Swenson

Room: E10C

Track: The Art of Craft

This session will explore techniques to bring your characters to life. Learn what they need to become fully formed in the reader’s mind. Discover strategies for deepening characterization, including ways to give your characters secrets, needs, goals, and fears.

Paths to Publishing

Speakers: Amina Gautier, Phaedra Hise, Beth Marshea , Ginger McKnight Chavers

Moderator: Sadeqa Johnson

Room: E10A-B

Track: The Business Side of Writing

Explore different ways to get your work out into the world. By weighing the pros and cons and talking candidly about the financial realities, these experts can help you choose the best path or paths for you. Hear about hybrid publishing, content marketing, and more. You may end up with different strategies for different projects in your future. Let this panel help you make a plan.

Inspiration & Encouragement for Older Debut Authors

Speakers: Mary Bonina, Alma Katsu, Jenn Rossmann

Moderator: A. B. Westrick

Room: E11B

Track: Sustaining a Writing Life

The publishing world is rife with whiz kids making their mark before their thirties, but what about writers pursuing their passions later in life? What if you’re thinking about writing as a second (or third or fourth) career? This panel will share unique resources and advice for putting your best foot forward when you have a wealth of experience and wisdom to share.

Navigating Creative Nonfiction

Speakers: Roben Farzad, Dean King, Jon Pineda

Moderator: Ellen Brown

Room: E11C

Track: Exploring Form

This panel explores some of the inherent challenges in creative nonfiction.  How creative can you be with your interpretations, and how close do you need to stick to the truth? Can you include dialogue or thoughts if you weren’t there? How do you best speak the truth when the sources can’t agree? Join our experts for their insights.

10:30–10:45 a.m.  Break

10:45–11:45 a.m.  Breakout Sessions and Shoptalk

Shoptalk (NEW)

Room: E10D

With an add-on Shoptalk Access ticket, you can talk with writing and publishing experts about topics of interest to you. In the Shoptalk room, you’ll find writers, editors, independent publishing experts, and others who can help with your special questions and challenges.

Story Magic: Plot Tips & Tricks

Speakers: Bruce Holsinger, Alma Katsu, David Robbins, Padma Venkatraman

Moderator: Phil Hilliker

Room: E10A-B

Track: The Art of Craft

A strong plot drives a story to the finish line. There are no shortcuts and plenty of places to stall out along the way. This session will rev up your writing engine with strategies to move the story forward. Whether you write your ending or your favorite scenes first, learn how to successfully navigate from page one to “the end.”

Writing Across Class Lines

Speakers: Roben Farzad, Jenn Rossman, Chris Terry

Moderator: Michael Paul Williams

Room: E10C

Track: The Art of Craft

Literature enables readers to feel empathy for characters with different backgrounds, including socioeconomic class. Emotions are universal, and there are ways talented writers can connect us all. This session will help you avoid tropes, clichés, and stereotypes while writing about socioeconomic class and multi-dimensional characters.

Momentum & Mood in Poetry

Speakers: Mary Bonina, Michelle Dodd, Jon Pineda

Moderator: Wendy DeGroat

Room: E11B

Track: Exploring Form

How does a poet shape a poem’s momentum? What confluence of elements convey a poem’s mood? Do these answers vary for narrative and lyric work, poems of witness or memory, or from page to stage? A panel of accomplished poets will offer insights into these questions.

Mastering the Short Story

Speakers: Amina Gautier, Melanie Hatter, Nathan Long, Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Moderator: Melissa Sinclair

Room: E11C

Track: Exploring Form

Short stories help us learn about ourselves and the word around us with insight, power, and efficiency. This session explores what makes the form work and strategies to help get your stories published.

11:45 a.m.–12:45 p.m. Lunch

Room: Lobby

12:30–1:45 p.m. Workshop (NEW) and Intensive

Workshop – The Revisionist: Using your Inner Editor as a Writer with Jenn Baker (Limited to 40 participants – information on registering for this free workshop will be posted soon.)

Room: E11B

The biggest step to finishing is revising. But for many writers, this can be the hardest threshold to cross. When receiving feedback, processing feedback, and finding ways to fill plot holes or alter moments for greater impact how do we as writers implement these updates on the page? And how does our inner editor (critic) zero in on those points to smooth out the wrinkles?

In this workshop, participants will compare early versions to final versions of fiction and nonfiction to see what’s been added/removed, discuss different methods to tackle new drafts, and do on-site revisions of their own with time left over for feedback to compare the before & after based on discussion. The opening icebreaker will have the group write a short scene together and close with us revising it together.

Intensive – Business Bootcamp for Writers: Legal and Business Basics of Making Your Art Your Career

Speaker: Ginger McKnight-Chavers

Room: E11C

This intensive is a little longer (75 minutes total) than the one starting at 12:45. No cap, and no registration required.

From the first idea you write down, to the release of your first book, law and business basics seep into your creative life. Whether you are writing a manuscript, pitching an article or publishing and selling your work, you’re not just a writer, but an entrepreneur. This bootcamp will provide you just enough basic legal and business information to help you navigate your writing life and career off the page.

Takeaways include:

  • Understanding when to incorporate yourself
  • Sales & Marketing Basics
  • Information about Privacy/Publicity/Obscenity Rights
  • Handling Writing Collaborations

12:45–1:45 p.m.  Intensive, Musical Conversation, and Shoptalk

Shoptalk (NEW)

Room: E10D

With an add-on Shoptalk Access ticket, you can talk with writing and publishing experts about topics of interest to you. In the Shoptalk room, you’ll find writers, editors, independent publishing experts, and others who can help with your special questions and challenges.

Intensive: Editing to Empower Every Word

Speaker: Kris Spisak

Room: E10A-B

Our editing session with Kris was our most popular intensive last year, so we’ve brought it back, with updated tips from your favorite editor!

Just like any other piece of the writing process, editing is a craft to be learned. So often the best of stories are held back not by the author’s creativity but by common typos, weak verbs, cliché phrasings, and vague descriptions that don’t hook the reader as much as they could. How can an opening go beyond what readers have seen before? How can a writer think past overused body language postures and movements? How can a simple interaction come alive?

In this workshop, attendees will have the opportunity to brainstorm how to fix less powerful writing samples and leave with:

  • Strategies to elevate every sentence’s verbs
  • Methods for slicing down wordiness
  • A “cheat sheet” to bring your writing to the next level using Kris’s favorite editing process
  • Macro-editing and micro-editing techniques to put to use right away

Bonus Panel: A Musical Conversation

Speakers: Jeff Jackson, Chris Terry

Moderator: Erica Orloff

Room: E10C

How do you capture the power and magic of live music on the page? Come listen to a conversation between music aficionados about how to get your words to sing.

1:45–2:00 p.m.  Break

2:00–3:00 p.m.  Breakout Sessions and Shoptalk

Sustaining First Person in a Novel

Speakers: Anna Geller, Kat Spears, Padma Venkatraman

Moderator: Robin Farmer

Room: E10A-B

Track: The Art of Craft

Using first person throughout an entire novel presents a particular set of challenges. In this panel, we’ll discuss how voice, tone, pacing, and a focused point of view can captivate readers from beginning to end. We’ll talk about the advantages of getting inside the narrator’s head and discuss the pitfalls that may lead to disconnection.

Adapting Your Story for Small & Big Screens

Speakers: Caroline Hoover, Tiffany Jackson, Ramona Taylor

Moderator: Kristin Swenson

Room: E10C

Track: The Business Side of Writing

Producers, as well as streaming giants such as Netflix, need original content, from pilots and limited series to movies. Interested in transferring your writing skills to different media? Come learn about resources to help you get started.

Picking & Working with Editors

Speakers: Jennifer Baker, Christina Morgan, Jenn Rossman

Moderator: Erica Orloff

Room: E11B

Track: Sustaining a Writing Life

Finding an editor and using one is critical and advisable, whether you freelance, self-publish, or seek a traditional publishing deal. How do you vet a freelance editor, and how do you work together? This session will explore questions to ask and the types of editing services available so you can choose the best professional for your project.

Authenticity & Sensitivity in Historical Fiction

Speakers: Bruce Holsinger, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Paige Wheeler

Moderator: Sadeqa Johnson

Room: E11C

Track: Exploring Form

When writing historical fiction, do you need to get every detail right, or is it okay if you “don’t sweat the small stuff”? How do you handle time periods where the norms were different than they are today? Our experts share their insights on getting it right.

3:00–3:15 p.m.  Break

3:15–3:30 p.m.  Presentation of Emyl Jenkins Award

Room: E10A-B

3:30–4: 30 p.m.  Plenary Session: Keynote Address by Marita Golden

Room: E10A-B

5:30–7:00 p.m.  Waxing Poetry (Poe Museum)

A showcase of poets from the James River Writers Conference

The Edgar Allan Poe Museum, 1914 E Main St, Richmond, VA 23223

Sunday, October 13, 2019

8:00–8:45 a.m.  Coffee & Light Breakfast Buffet

Room: Lobby

8:45–9:00 a.m.  Opening

Room: E10A-B

9:00–10:00 a.m.  Plenary Session: First Pages

Room: E10A-B

The First Pages Critique has become one of the conference’s best-loved sessions. Agents and editors are swamped with submissions. How can your writing get their attention? Send your first page to JRW and hear how some of the world’s most critical readers react to your writing.

10:00–10:15 a.m.  Break

10:15–11:15 a.m.  Breakout Sessions and Shoptalk

Shoptalk (NEW)

Room: E10D

With an add-on Shoptalk Access ticket, you can talk with writing and publishing experts about topics of interest to you. In the Shoptalk room, you’ll find writers, editors, independent publishing experts, and others who can help with your special questions and challenges.

What Comes First: Activism or Art?

Speakers: Michelle Dodd, Melanie S. Hatter, Tiffany Jackson, Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Moderator: Michael Paul Williams

Room: E10A-B

Track: The Art of Craft

What is the intersection of art and activism? Are they seamless? Do you have to compromise? Is the goal to incite, convert, inspire, or agitate? Do you think in terms of a target audience you want to reach before writing? How do you challenge injustice in books and poetry? How do race, class, gender, sexuality, and other factors affect our lives? Our panel of experts share insights and strategies on how to explore issues of social justice with authenticity.

Podcast Essentials

Speakers: Jennifer Baker, Philippa Ballantine, Tee Morris

Moderator: Sharvette Mitchell

Room: E10C

Track: The Business Side of Writing

Podcasting is everywhere, and everyone is listening. In this panel, we’ll discuss tips on how the beginner can get started and best practices for keeping an established podcast going.

Building a Community to Sell Your Work

Speakers: Ginger McKnight-Chavers, Roben Farzad, Julie Valerie
Moderator: Kris Spisak

Room: E11B

Track: Sustaining the Writing Life

Whether you write blogs, poetry, screenplays, novels, or short stories, your readers are essential. From beta readers and independent bookstore relationships to social media and book club engagements, panelists will discuss how to cultivate people who support your work and steps to take to keep them engaged.

Vulnerability in Memoir

Speakers: Mary Bonina, Marita Golden, Jon Pineda
Moderator: Patty Smith

Room: E11C

Track: Exploring Form

Vulnerability is a superpower in writing memoir. Readers forge connections to writing that is emotional and real. But how do you get beyond the fear of revealing something personal, private and painful?  This panel will discuss how to be vulnerable on the page so you can write your own stories with heart and authenticity.

11:15-11:30 a.m.  Break

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.  Breakout Sessions and Shoptalk

Shoptalk (NEW)

Room: E10D

With an add-on Shoptalk Access ticket, you can talk with writing and publishing experts about topics of interest to you. In the Shoptalk room, you’ll find writers, editors, independent publishing experts, and others who can help with your special questions and challenges.

Elements of Suspense & Horror

Speakers: Jeff Jackson, Tiffany Jackson, Alma Katsu
Moderator: Melissa Sinclair

Room: E10C

Track: The Art of Craft

Mysteries, thrillers, and horror novels all rely on building suspense and making story decisions for surprise or shock value. But other genres can benefit from focusing on these important pieces of pacing and character development as well. Learn how you can use suspense and horror devices to keep your readers engaged.

Building & Sustaining Your Brand

Speakers: Michelle Dodd, Tee Morris, TBA

Moderator: Stacy Hawkins Adams

Room: E10A-B

Track: The Business Side of Writing

It’s good to think about how you want to position yourself as a writer and how you can stand out from the crowd. Do you put your real self out there (including your political views and family photos)? Or do you create a persona? And what does brand have to do with selling your work?

Overcoming Writing Pitfalls

Speakers: Melanie Hatter, Nathan Long, Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Moderator: Rebekah Pierce

Room: E11B

Track: Sustaining the Writing Life

From professional jealousy and self-sabotage to writer’s block and unprofessional behavior, writers experience emotions that are hard to talk about and sometimes harder to manage. Come hear about real strategies to sidestep negativity and get out of your own way.

Effective Essays

Speakers: Jennifer Baker, Jenn Rossman, Ginger McKnight-Chavers

Moderator: Kristen Green

Room: E11C

Track: Exploring Form

Do you pick your audience or your essay topic first? How do you find the best opening? Where do you end for the most impact? Essays are a great way to engage the world around you, and this panel can help you figure out what to emphasize and what to leave out.

12:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m.  Lunch

1:00-2:30 p.m.  Agent Dating Game

MC: Brian Rock

Room: E10A-B

Sometime between Saturday morning and Sunday at 10:00 AM, you can drop your name in a bowl, indicating your willingness to participate in The Agent Dating Game and selecting which category best describes your current work.

Our agent will ask each selected writer a question (for instance, “What would be your main character’s idea of a perfect date?” or “What does your protagonist want most of all?”). After a few follow-up questions, our MC will encourage the agent to select a winner. Winners of each round will have their proposal and first chapter read (nonfiction), or their synopsis and three chapters read (fiction).

The audience will gain insights into the thinking of agents—and who knows? One of our own dates just might find the perfect relationship.

2:30-2:45 p.m.  Break

2:45–3:45 p.m. Breakout Sessions and Shoptalk

Shoptalk (NEW)

Room: E10D

With an add-on Shoptalk Access ticket, you can talk with writing and publishing experts about topics of interest to you. In the Shoptalk room, you’ll find writers, editors, independent publishing experts, and others who can help with your special questions and challenges.

Authentic World Building

Speakers: Tee Morris, Philippa Ballentine, Brenna English-Loeb

Moderator: Bill Blume

Room: E10A-B

Track: The Art of Craft

World building is the lifeblood of compelling storytelling, especially in science fiction and fantasy.  But at the same time, it can be fraught with challenges, from weak infrastructure to one-dimensional societal groups. Learn how to avoid the pitfalls and get guidelines to simplify your process.

Attention-Grabbing Queries & Synopses

Speakers: Malaga Baldi, Jeff Jackson, Beth Marshea

Moderator: Patty Smith

Room: E11A

Track: The Business Side of Writing

Agents get hundreds of query letters and synopses a week. Come learn the essential components of each and how to distinguish your writing from the rest of the slush pile.

Revisions & Resubmissions

Speakers: Amina Gautier, Nathan Long, Chris Terry

Moderator: A.B.Westrick

Room: E11B

Track: Sustaining a Writing Life

Whether you’re getting an agent or hiring a freelance editor, knowing how to approach revisions is an important part of the process. You may find yourself agonizing over suggested changes versus your vision. Learn how to accept constructive criticism and when to push back.

Interiority & Pacing in MG/ YA

Speakers: Tiffany Jackson, Marie Lamba, Padma Venkatraman

Moderator: Erica Orloff

Room: E11C

Track: Exploring Form

What a character thinks may be far more interesting than what he or she says. While interiority can be the hallmark of great literature, it can also act as a momentum killer. Discover ways to balance interiority and pacing to keep middle grade and young adult audiences engaged.

3:35–3:45 p.m.  Break

3:45–4:45 p.m.  Intensives

Building a 21st Century Website

Speakers: J.P. Cane

Room: E10A-B

A website is the perfect place for authors to showcase their work, connect with readers (perhaps even catch the attention of agents and publishers), build their brand, and grow their newsletter lists. But where do you start? Or, if you already have a website, how do you take it to the next level? Should you hire someone? This intensive provides practical advice so that attendees will walk away with:

  • Strategies to get started, set goals, and experiment with your new site
  • A checklist of essential information your website will need
  • Content ideas for your site even if you’re not yet published
  • An understanding of free versus premium hosting, and when it may be time to hire a web professional

Research like a Pro

Speakers: Kristen Green

Room: E10C

If you have a book idea that requires research and you’re not sure where to start, this session is for you. Author Kristen Green will share some of her best research tips, gleaned from 25 years working as a journalist and writing acclaimed nonfiction. Learn where to search for information, how to keep track of the details you find, and when to stop researching and start writing.

Takeaways include:

  • Learn where to find primary sources beyond your computer
  • Strategies to get sources to talk
  • How to follow a breadcrumb trail
  • Using bibliographies to find more sources
  • Tips on taking notes with annotation and resources to store your work (Scrivener, Evernote, etc.)

Cutting Line: Rethinking Line Breaks in our Poems

Speakers: Jon Pineda

Room: E11A

In this session, we will discuss ways to utilize enjambment and build momentum in our poems.  We will also focus on a number of strategies for enhancing how lineation (end-stopped and/or enjambed lines) helps establish the speaker’s voice and strengthens the poem’s tonal resonance.  In addition to leading these discussions, I will provide the group with an in-class writing exercise, so that attendees will have the opportunity to practice the strategies we’ve discussed.

Takeaways include:

  • Ways to utilize enjambment
  • How to create “half-meanings”
  • Effective ways to Implement caesuras
  • Strategies for rethinking “line breaks”

Genre Gatherings

Room: E10D

Build community with others who write in your genre.

4:45–4:55 p.m.  Break

4:55–5:10 p.m.  Closing and 2020 free ticket drawing

Room: E10A-B