The West Virginia Writers Conference was held in Ripley, WV, at the Cedar Lakes Conference Center, June 7-9. It was a grand conference with phenomenal speakers and workshops. I got to see several old friends and made a few new friends, too.

The first session I attended on Friday afternoon was with Cat Pleska, “Tell a Life Story in a Flash,” all about Flash Memoir. Among lots of other information, Cat taught us the difference between Flash Nonfiction (750-1000 words), Sudden Nonfiction (500-750 words), Micro Nonfiction (100-300 words), Mini Nonfiction (50 words), and of course the infamous 6-word memoir. She also talked about, the first I’d ever heard of this website. Find Cat online at 

Next up was Georgann Eubanks, one of the powerhouses that oversees Table Rock Writers Workshop each August in Little Switzerland, NC. Georgann’s session on Friday afternoon taught us to “Write What You Don’t Know,” about research. Shae taught us many great things including not to go in too prepared – know some about your topic, but don’t try to know everything about it; be prepared to act dumb so you can get more information; take “copious notes” you can go back to later; and always leave an opening for yourself to come back later if you need to. Check out Georgan online at 

After dinner, I attended Larry Thacker’s session, “Organize: Go Forth and Publish!” If you’re unfamiliar with Larry, you’re really missing out. He does it all, and I’m not even joking about that. He’s had a reality TV show about his antiquing business in Johnson City in addition to his stellar writing credentials. He submits and publishes more than anyone else I know. Seriously – more than 200 publications, and some of those, multiples times! And currently, he’s doing music and records (as in recording them) on the side of all the writing he does. Now, Larry has a lot to say about publishing, about how to get organized, and preaching the art of submitting. He says there are four basic types of writing activities – writing, reading, revising, and submitting – and as writers, we ought to be doing at least two of those activities each day. There are, according to Larry, six types of writing: brief ideas, fleshed out pieces, near readies, completes, submissions, and pieces that are published. I particularly enjoyed his advice to keep all poems in one file and color code them according to where they were in the process – leave them in regular black print if you haven’t done anything with them; put them in red print if they’ve been submitted somewhere; and put them in green print if they’ve been published. In this way, you know where they are in the publication process – also, Larry recommends that you keep several documents, that you keep them by subject, so some poems will be in more than one file. I haven’t made a move in this direction yet – I’m slow to change – but I like the concept in theory. Larry also talked about, so obviously, I’m behind and need to learn more about this resource! Check out Larry online at 

Next up was Open Mic in the Assembly Hall. I read a micro fiction piece from my first book, Dog Days and Dragonflies, since copies of it were on sale in the on-site bookstore that weekend. I was really proud of our 7 a.m. writing group, as 6 of us read that evening and, if I may say so, did a great job in the process. By then, I was ready for bed, so I headed back over to Holt Lodge and called it a night.

Bright and early the next morning, we were treated to a keynote speech from my buddy Denton Loving, who flat-out told us the world of publishing was going to hell in a handbasket and it’s up to us to get out there and to help change the way things get done if we intend to get our work published and help others do the same. It was a timely topic, and he did a great job in his delivery and in his examples of alternatives already happening. And hey, it isn’t every day you get to hear a keynote speaker quote the editor of Taco Bell Quarterly, right? Seriously, my key takeaways from this talk were that we need to build mutually beneficial relationships in the writing community, pay it forward whenever possible, help others without there being something in it for us whenever possible, and build strong community. Denton’s picture is in the dictionary beside “literary citizenship,” though, so none of this came as a surprise to me. He practices what he teaches, and I’ve been the recipient of all this goodness for many years now, both personally and professionally. Read more about Denton at  

Georgann Eubanks’ next session was “The Art of the Interview,” and Donna Campbell, the other half of the Table Rock management team, assisted her for this one. The two of them have been working on writing and book projects together for twenty-five years now, so they know a little bit about how to successfully interview people. It piggybacked nicely off of the previous afternoon’s session, if you’d been able to make that, but also stood alone nicely if you had missed it. I loved this quote from Georgann – “A person’s story is their most valuable possession.” When you think of it in that way, interviewing someone is asking someone to share their most prized possession with you, so you need to pay special care and attention with that story. One of the practical tools she suggested having is a release form, regardless of how formal or informal the interview might be – so you’re covered and get that form signed before you begin! Things to consider when you’re conducting an interview, questions to ask yourself so you know better what to ask your interviewee – think of your audience and what they don’t know; be present; don’t interrupt the interviewee (some of your best material may come from them saying things not directly asked of them); let others ask the tough questions (i.e., instead of saying “you did thus and so,” maybe let it play out by saying, “according to the newspaper [or some other on-record source],” and ask your question; it’s okay to slow down/pause; follow-up, ask why; get the facts – ask again to make sure you have things correct; close your notebook – that may be when they really start talking, when they thing the interview is less official or finished.

Next was “Building Character” with Denton. In this workshop, Denton took us through a really long list of questions to help us build a character or even to get to know one of our own characters better. After a series of 8-10 questions, he gave us about 5-10 to take what we had written and create some writing specific to what we had just uncovered/discovered about our character. We did this a couple of times, then he threw a real monkey-wrench into the plot – I won’t tell you what, in case you’re ever in the workshop – and we had to write about that. He used the same basic format to help us create a setting a plot for the character we had created, too, basically giving us a great start on a story, or at least a detailed scene, during our time together in his session. 

After lunch, Sharon Shadrick, Sharon Waters, and I presented “Confronting Imposter Syndrome” to a full house of about thirty people in the conference room in Holt. We all felt like it went well. I had been incredibly nervous beforehand – I think because I’d never even been to a West Virginia Writers Conference before, and here I was, presenting at my first one – it made me feel a bit like an imposter! Imposter Syndrome, in case you don’t know, is when you feel like you don’t have the right or credentials to do something, when you feel like you’re an imposter for trying to do something. Ironic, huh? Well, here’s the truth. In the ten months or so since we first submitted the proposals to present this presentation at the Tennessee Mountain Writers Conference and the West Virginia Writers Conference, I’ve fought imposter syndrome numerous times. In submitting the proposals, we basically did the research necessary to make ourselves experts on a topic. We knew we had experienced it before, too – who hasn’t, in any field – and we knew some ways we had in the past successfully found to keep it at bay. So, after doing some research and deciding on the best ways to share that information, we pulled out some anecdotes, personal experiences, and shared some of the ways we have found to be successful in validating ourselves as writers. We added a couple of generative writing exercises, too – ecause everyone wants to write at a conference – and we were really fortunate to have another receptive, respectful audience that could identify with what we said and how we presented the information and materials at hand. I really appreciate my co-presenters and their willingness to chase this presentation opportunity with me when I first brought it up last Fall. We’ve had a really good run with it, and I appreciate everything they did to make it a success.

I sat out the next session so I could decompress. And to chat with a new friend Denton had introduced me to earlier in the conference. Renee Nicholson is just about the nicest person I’ve come across anywhere in the longest time! And she’s funny and brilliant, too. More about all of that when I talk about her session on Sunday morning, though. Suffice it to say, I’ve made a new friend and am so appreciative of her encouragement and support!

Then I was back in the Holt Conference Room to see Denton do his presentation, “Writing Poems About Place.” Place poems have always been of interest to me, and I try my hand at them often. He started us out with a quote from Kentucky poet, Maurice Manning, “Every place is a place.”  With that in mind, Denton asked us to list at least ten places that meant something to us, places from our childhood, adulthood, places that held specific memories or significance. They could be places like towns or buildings we lived in, worked in, spent lots of time in, or even specific rooms or spots outdoors. Then he asked us to choose one place from the list and think about a list of things like was it natural, or manmade; colors associated with it; whether or not there was family history attached to it, etc. Next, we were given time to write about it. This was just the first part of the exercise. As I said about his first session, in case you’re ever in this session with him, I’ll save the good stuff for in-person encounters. 

The Keynote Speaker for this year’s Annual Banquet was Mary Carroll-Hackett, a woman of great talent with whom I was unfamiliar prior to the conference. I loved her speech topic, which was the greatest thing she ever learned about writing coming from her grandmother. Without putting out any spoilers, it came down to getting over yourself when you are trying to portray your writing as “protecting” your people when you’re really trying to protect yourself. Her eloquence and accessibility made it such an outstanding speech. I remember doing similar things when I was young, denying and denouncing, minimizing the larger-than-life characters I knew firsthand because not doing so might draw me into the story – guilt by association. All I can say is thank God for grannies that guide us when we need them, for Mary, for me, for all of us who will listen. Check her out online at 

There were also numerous awards presented during the Banquet. Sharon Waters, Julie Pratt, and Eleanor Sphor from our 7 a.m. writing group all placed in the contests. I got third place for my ekphrastic poem, “Open Window,” on the Poetry Wall at the Conference. Gloria Humphreys from our writing group was one of the conference interns and did such a gorgeous job decorating the tables for the banquet, as well as helping everything run smoothly all weekend. What the food lacked, the company and atmosphere more than made up for. Congratulations to Lynne Squires and the 2023-2024 Board of Directors for a job incredibly well done!

But wait, there was more! There were two sessions on Sunday morning. I started out with Denton Loving’s “Ekphrastic Poetry.” Denton explained what ekphrastic writing is and what it does, then showed us several pieces of art and had us write for a few minutes about each. Admittedly, it’s harder for me to write ekphrastically from a projection screen than from a computer screen or in person, but I got a couple of decent starts and some valuable ideas for how to approach ekphrastic writing. 

I wanted to go out with a bang, so I went back to the Assembly Hall and heard Renee Nicholson’s “The Landscape of Publishing for Memoir and Narrative Nonfiction.” As I said before, Renee is one of the loveliest individuals in the universe, and she really knows her stuff. Professionally, she works in narrative medicine, which I found so interesting, as I’d never heard of it. Her expertise in dancing is also phenomenal, and she uses that lens for writing nonfiction of various types. Hearing about some of her dancing experiences was quite thrilling, too, even for someone like me who can’t dance a lick. Renee’s Sunday morning talk included naming some of the types of nonfiction, so we could better discuss where to pursue publishing the various types. I never stopped to consider how many types there were, honestly; it was a real eye-opener. Here are the categories she named for us: expository nonfiction; narrative nonfiction; descriptive nonfiction; memoirs and autobiographies; hybrid memoir; essays (braided essay, fragmented essay, graphic essay, hermit crab essay, lyric essay, personal reportage essay); journalism (narrative/literary journalism); cultural criticism; flash; science & nature; food writing; parenting; self-help; humor. She listed several publications that specialize in nonfiction. I didn’t get who the quote was attributed to – I was trying hard to write down everything I could – but she had the greatest quote, “In the quieter nonfiction, like memoir… the first 3000 words have to sing, sing, sing.” It made me realize that I have a lot to do when I get back to working on my memoir about the trip to the UK and Europe when I finish this short story collection; since it’s about me chasing after musical rainbows, I need to make sure it sings loudly! You can check out Renee online at 

My wrap-up from the conference is lengthy, but it really was a great conference, and I took more notes than I’ve summarized here. More than anything, I wanted to share the amazing speakers and give you their websites so you can become familiar with them. They really are worth your time to investigate and get to know their work.