A Meeting of the Literary Minds

25th annual Flathead River Writers Conference brings together writers, agents, editors for a weekend

By Molly Priddy

For a writer to perform their craft, they need something to write on, something to write with, and an idea. It’s a solitary endeavor by its very nature, and many such artists revel in the isolation.

But every once in a while, writers like to get together to prove they aren’t actually alone in their literary pursuits. That’s how Authors of the Flathead, a group of writers supporting and helping one another, was formed.

It’s also the reason Authors of the Flathead started its annual Flathead River Writers Conference, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year over the Sept. 26-27 conference weekend at Flathead Valley Community College.

Debbie Burke was one of the founding members of the Authors group, and said it has been a unique joy to watch people grow in their writing over the years.

“It’s so neat,” Burke said. “What’s really nice is to see people who came originally as newbies who didn’t know what they were doing and they have achieved success and now are presenting at the conference.”

The conference that started as a meeting in a church basement has blossomed into a well-known weekend, attracting the attention of book editors and agents, who attend and present along with writers.

With a limit of 100 people attending, the atmosphere is one of inclusion and fun, Burke said, with attendees of various ages and skills mingling all together.

“It’s a fun, casual, inclusive sort of conference,” Burke said. “People can sit down next to a New York editor and talk to them at lunch. So the accessibility is very, very good.”

The theme of this year’s conference is “The 21st Century Writer,” with a focus on how writing and publishing continue to change as the Internet presents opportunities unfathomable even 15 years ago.

Jess Owen, president of Authors of the Flathead, started her career in writing, which now includes the young-adult fantasy series “The Summer King Chronicles,” at a Flathead River Writers Conference when she was still a teenager.

Owen attended a couple of conferences before bringing a book manuscript along with her and meeting with an agent.

“She was very encouraging; she said, ‘you’re almost there,’ and gave me some really practical advice,” Owen said.

While that manuscript went unpublished, it gave Owen the tools to publish, but just as importantly, the knowledge that she could publish, that it was possible.

The conference touches on a wide range of topics, from writing a series to a horror and screenwriting workshop and writing sex scenes.

Presenters this year include Burke; B.J. Daniels, who has authored more than 80 books and 40 short stories; Les Standiford, author of multiple novels and recipient of the Frank O’Connor Award for Short Fiction; Cathy Scott, author of bestselling “The Killing of Tupac Shakur” and others; playwright Lavonne Mueller, whose textbook, “Creative Writing,” is used by students around the world; Adam Pitman and David Burke, horror filmmakers; Ina Albert, author of “Write Yourself Well: Journal Yourself to Health,” and a children’s book; Michael Sterling, an agent with Folio Literary Management; and editor Kerri Buckley of Carina Press.

There’s such a variety of topics that anyone with an interest in most aspects of writing should find something interesting, Burke said. Ideas are generated, connections are made, and often, friendships are formed.

“We try and pack a lot of information in, make it meaty with a lot of takeaway for people, but we also have a lot of fun and conversation times,” Burke said.

The conference only accepts 100 attendees; online signups are encouraged. Owen also noted that interested writers can drop by the Authors of the Flathead weekly meeting on Thursdays. There are connections to be made, especially at the conference.

“(Writing is) so solitary and even if you’re on Twitter and Facebook, there’s nothing like being in a room with 99 other people who have the same goal,” Owen said. “It’s really special, you feel validated.”

For more information on Authors of the Flathead and the Flathead River Writers Conference, visit www.authorsoftheflathead.org or call 406-881-4066.

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