Breakout Sessions


This following list of breakout sessions is from the 2016 conference. We’re working hard on another great lineup for 2017, so check back soon!


— Fiction —


The Triquetra: Character, Plot, and Voice—Tracy Groot

Isolate these three and you’ll have nice sterile chambers of character templates, plot wheels, and POV grids. Consider them one element, and you may find a new (yet criminally instinctive) approach to writing your novel. By tracing the development of two characters—one major and one minor—Tracy will show her own process, how these three fiction-writing elements overlap and come together to create one work.


Write Like a Viking: Fiction Writing Tips from the Norse Gods—Josh Mosey

From character creation and world building to conflict and plot tension, Norse mythology has much to offer. In this session of readings from Norse texts and group discussion, attendees will be equipped for battle in the war against the blank page. From Gunnungagap to Ragnarok, we’ll learn to write stronger fiction and find our places in Valhalla, where the brave will live forever!


Settings to Make Your Novel Unforgettable—Erin Bartels

Middle Earth. Lake Wobegon. Manderlay. They’re places we’ve never been and yet may know more intimately than our hometown. The setting of your novel is more than just a stage from which your characters deliver their lines—it’s an integral part of your story. Whether it’s a historical mining town, a modern metropolis, or a place that only exists in your imagination, you need to make it real to your reader. This session covers best practices for researching and rendering your setting, as well as how to start with nothing but a great setting idea and work your way to an engaging plot and memorable characters.


Your Hero’s Journey: Applying the Classic Structure to Your Novel—Bob Evenhouse

The Hero’s Journey is a story structure that has spanned millennia. From Homer’s Iliad to Harry Potter it has remained unmodified, captivating people across the globe. Join Bob Evenhouse as he dissects modern stories and gives you the tools to implement the Hero’s Journey in your own books. You’ll come away with new understanding of its classic elements and apply the structure to your own novel.


Writing Effective Dialogue (I)—Hugh Cook

In this first of two workshops on dialogue we will discuss how to increase your chances of writing a successful short story through familiarity with the significant functions dialogue performs in fiction. These include revealing character, foreshadowing plot events, expressing the story’s central conflict, and conveying the story’s theme. We will look at examples from works by well-known writers.


Writing Effective Dialogue (II)—Hugh Cook

In this second of two workshops on dialogue we will examine detailed aspects of writing effective dialogue, such as how to use both direct and indirect dialogue, proper use of dialogue tags, and avoiding common dialogue errors.


Praying with (and for) Your Characters—Sharon Garlough Brown

Madeleine L’Engle, in her book Walking on Water, advocates for the importance of prayerful listening in the process of writing. In this workshop author and spiritual director Sharon Garlough Brown explores characterization through the lens of spiritual direction, an ancient Christian ministry of holy listening. How might a posture of receptivity and hospitality to the Spirit impact the way we develop characters and craft stories? What kinds of questions can we ask the characters in order to better understand their longings and fears? And how do we grant characters freedom to walk on and off the page without trying to exert control?


— Social Media/Marketing —


Your Social Media Needs Great Graphics: How to Find and Design the Perfect Image for Every Post—Jessie Clemence

We’re living in a social media world, driven by images and sound bites. In this workshop we’ll learn how to design images for your social media posts that will grab a reader’s attention, and make him want to read more. No graphic design experience necessary—we’ll start from the basics! You’ll leave with tons of resources and ideas to make your posts even better for your readers.


Adding Value to Your Writing and Platform with Video—Amelia Rhodes

It’s no secret that video is here to stay, with 78 percent of people watching videos online every week and 58 percent watching every day. But writers need not be afraid of using video to communicate your message. We’ll look at the tools available for live and recorded videos, platforms that work best for video, and brainstorm ideas for how to use video to add value to your writing.


The Anatomy of a Great Blog Post—Susie Finkbeiner

We know that blogging is an effective tool in building a writer’s online platform. What we might struggle with, however, is how to write a great blog post. We’ll discuss best practices for writing a post that engages, informs, and earns reader loyalty in a fun and interactive format.



— Craft and Genre —


Making It Memorable: Creative Nonfiction that Changes Us—Jill Richardson

Our nonfiction writing should sing with story, not plod with preaching. But too often we preach and teach rather than weave true words of real life. How do we create an engaging, creative, true narrative, not a list of alliterative sermon points? How do we help readers discover a conclusion, not tack on a moral? We’ll cover creative nonfiction basics and practice with fun, in-class exercises.


Panoramic to Close-ups: Use the Camera’s Eye to Fully Realize Your Fiction & Nonfiction—Cynthia Beach

The same way that Hollywood uses distant shots and close-ups to cue viewers, we as writers can learn how to move “the camera,” so to speak, to accomplish our writing goals. English professor and writer Cynthia Beach will guide you through this helpful approach through explanation, examples and exercises.


Poetry Workshop: Writing, Critiquing and Learning—Matthew Landrum

Participants will read their poems and discuss what the poem accomplishes and how, plus turn an eye toward possible paths forward in future rewrites. Along the way, we’ll talk poetics, writing theory, practice, and much more. So bring your poems and a spirit of adventure and join us in some deep reading and discussion.


Leaning Literary: Writing for and Submitting to Literary Journals—Matthew Landrum

The proliferation of literary journals, both print and online, means more options for poets, essayists and short story writers. Discover some of these journals, what they’re looking for, how to submit, and what to expect with publication.


Writing Your True Story without Offending Absolutely Everyone—Lorilee Craker

“I want to write about my mother/child/boss/classmate but I don’t want to offend them” has to be a Top Ten remark heard at writers’ conferences and book events of all kinds.  Which stories should be left out and which ones should be kept? How can I “blur” identities while still expressing the truth of what happened?  This seminar, from a memoirist who wrote about her birth parents in “Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me,” will be your guide to sidestepping landmines while still writing truthfully.


Writing with Banana Peels—James Watkins

Making people laugh is a great way to communicate spiritual and practical truths. This session, based on Watkins’ book Writing with Banana Peels: Principles, Practices, and Pratfalls of Writing Humor, provides practical strategies for communicating more effectively with humor. You’ll learn a lot and laugh a lot!


— The Writing Life —


Creativity and the Individual Voice—Elizabeth Ivy Hawkins

You have an idea, a dream, a notion, a spark and it has incredible value. But sometimes that spark is dimmed by the others’ expectations, comparisons, and a lack of authenticity. This workshop will help you discover and clarify your voice, use creativity to develop your voice, and use that voice in compelling and inventive ways.


Writing Bravely: Setting and Reaching Your Goals—Jill Richardson

What’s the biggest handicap hindering your writing goals? For many writers, it’s fear: fear of failure, inadequacy, giving offence and even success. Participants will learn to recognize the fears keeping them from reaching their goals and find practical steps for conquering them. If you want real tools and a kick toward where you want to be, come on in.


Seeking God’s Direction for Your Writing: A Time of Prayer and Journaling—Jessie Clemence

For Christian writers, writing is more than our hobby or our career. It’s our calling and a ministry. How can we be successful if we haven’t spent enough time in prayer? This breakout session will give attendees time to do exactly that. Ample time will be provided to read specific Bible passages, journal our thoughts, and spend time in silent prayer. We’ll contemplate what God has called us to do, and what our specific response will be.


Filling the Gap: The Input You Need from the Person You Need, Right When You Need It—Ann Kroeker

Relationships ranging from coaches and mentors to writing groups and online communities can fill the gap at various phases of the writing life. Discover the benefit of engaging with key relationships at critical stages—people equipped to supply you with everything from editorial input and evaluation to emotional support. Whether you’re launching your freelance career, developing a book proposal, searching for an agent and publisher, or slogging through those lonely months of working on the manuscript, you don’t have to be alone anymore. Writing coach and author Ann Kroeker will present creative ideas for identifying the input and individual best suited to you and your project.


Balancing Writing, Your Day Job, and Life—Brenda Yoder

You work, have a family, and are serious about your writing projects. How do you successfully manage writing outside of your day job? In this workshop, you’ll learn to elevate your writing beyond an occasional hobby or dream to be a viable part of your life as a bi-vocational writer. Discover practical ways to manage time, reach goals, and develop writing habits that complement your life.


The Ten Creative Commandments—James N. Watkins

Christian authors and speakers are filled with the Spirit of the creative God of creation, so we should be the most creative people out there! Jim shares—practically and humorously—ten ways to develop your God-given creativity.


Nourishing Your Writing Dream—Lynn Austin

Dreams are like seeds—they need to be planted and nourished before they can grow. In sharing my story from full-time housewife to published author, I offer five growing tips anyone with a busy life can use as they pursue God’s dream for their life.


Orthodoxy: Restriction or Release?—Adam Navis

Do you have a story to tell, but are afraid it doesn’t fit within an orthodox Christian faith? This session explores what it means to be faithful to an orthodox tradition while also being faithful to your individual experiences. Learn what makes a story “Christian” and explore your own understanding of orthodoxy, how comfortable you are pushing boundaries and what stops you from speaking deep truths to the world.

— Business of Writing —


Ins and Outs, Ups and Downs of Publishing: Your Options and Opportunities—Tim Beals

In this workshop we’ll explore traditional publishing, self-publishing, and custom publishing, plus the advantages and drawbacks to each.  Because control has shifted from publishers to authors in recent years, you will learn how to decide which approach to take for your next project, the secret to success no matter what publishing option you choose, plus the costs and benefits of each option (in time, money, and opportunity). Book publishing is a complex process; this session will keep your project on track with sound counsel from a 35-year publishing veteran.


The Business of Writing: Understanding Literary Agreements, Book Contracts, Magazine Rights, Copyright and More—Tim Beals

There is more to building a writing career than just writing. Knowing your way around rights, copyrights, contracts, libel laws and other legal issues is vital for any professional. Tim’s years of publishing experience make him the perfect person to learn from and ask about the business side of the writing life.


Understanding Editing: What You Need, Who to Hire, Where to Look—Karin Beery

You’ve finished your manuscript and it’s time to hire an editor, but what kind of edit do you need? What type of editor should you talk to? Before you sign a contract, learn the basics and vocabulary of editing so you know what to look for.


How NOT to Get a Literary Agent—Linda Glaz

What on earth do agents want? Writers stumble through the motions as they do their best to guess what an agent is looking for. The answers are pretty simple if you know where and how to look. First and foremost, don’t allow your work ethic to identify you as an amateur. You’ll learn how to approach an agent or editor in a professional matter and learn from the mistakes of others.


Submit with Confidence: Remove the Worry and Pain When Pitching to Magazines and Websites—Peter DeHaan

As a magazine publisher, Peter DeHaan has read thousands of submissions, ranging from really great to epic failures. He’ll share inside information on what editors seek, how writers should conduct themselves, and common traps to avoid, all with the goal of helping writers submit content with confidence. The session will end with an “Ask the Publisher” Q&A.


— Author Spotlight Series —


Tracing God’s Thumbprint: The Poetry of Luci Shaw—Amy Nemecek

Luci Shaw believes it is a writer’s job to notice things. She discovers God’s creative thumbprints everywhere—in Scripture, in nature, in ordinary life events—and she responds by tracing those prints in words and metaphors. Come hear some of Luci’s most iconic poems, learn about her process as a writer, and find out which poets have most influenced her craft. Attendees will come away eager to feast on the poetry of Luci Shaw, and they will also glean insight into her longevity as a writer that can strengthen their own writing process.


— Two-Hour Intensives —


How to Be a Great Speaker—Even if You’re Scared to Death—Quentin Schultze

One of the best ways to build a platform for publishing is through speaking. Everyone can become an effective speaker and gain referrals to additional venues by following a few amazingly simple rules. Fear not. You can do it. Discover the few essentials that will turn your anxiety into excellent presentations—even without notes. Begin building your platform and exciting people about your writing. The basic principles will work for media interviews as well.


From Idea to Salable Article—Ann Byle

Take the idea you’re knocking around and turn it from concept to a salable product. This two-hour intensive will help you do four things: hone article (and book) ideas; determine where you’ll try to publish the article and specs for those publications; gather the pieces for the article such as sources and graphics; and begin writing the piece, with emphases on the lead and conclusion. You’ll come away with a list of story ideas and a great start turning them into articles you can sell.


Picture Books that Burrow into a Child’s Heart: Writing & Illustrating Things Kids Won’t Easily Forget—Gary Bower

Young 21st century readers are bombarded with lots of wrong messages, but a simple, well-crafted story can penetrate deeper and have a longer-lasting effect.  Gary Bower offers inspiration, tips, and creative exercises for writers who want to hone their picture book-writing skills to reach with precision the hearts of our most impressionable readers with unforgettable stories.  This two-hour session will help you hone your rhyming skills, have fun playing with words, and feel like a child again. You’ll have a blast creating memorable repetition that kids will repeat into adulthood.


— Saturday Lunch Forums —


Writing for Today’s Parents—Jill Richardson

Parents today aren’t looking for the seasoned expert or five easy tips for perfect kids. They’re migrating to mommy blogs that “tell it like it is” and books/articles by fellow parents in the trenches. This forum will show you how to speak modern parent language, craft a query editors will notice, address issues dear to parents (and which to steer clear of), and find the best publications to write for.


Self-Promotion: Greedy or Godly?—Shannon Popkin

Do you wonder if your attempts to expand your ministry are stamped with God’s approval? Do you feel embarrassed about promoting yourself? Do you question whether you’ve confused God’s calling with your own voice? This lunch forum will give you practical ways to examine your motives, relinquish control to God, and develop godly strategies for expanding your ministry platform.


When You Want to Quit Writing—Susie Finkbeiner

Every writer (even Stephen King) has hit a wall with a project. They’ve struggled and fought for a piece of writing so hard and wondered if it was time to toss it in the trash. In this casual, interactive forum we will discuss how to know if a project has encountered a dead end or just an obstacle. We’ll discover coping mechanisms for days that feel utterly uninspired, and encouragement to keep going.


On Creating a Good Work—Tracy Groot

“We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).  What does that mean for the writer? Does our writing qualify as “good work?” Tracy invites you to join the discussion about what “good work” means, why it’s important, and how a correct mindset about “good work” can help our writing.  She encourages writers to have new respect, new hope, and new belief in what they do.


— Plenary Breakout Sessions —


Just Let Me Write!—Alexis DeWeese 

So many writers shrug their shoulders or raise their fists when the word “platform” comes up. Why should we spend so much time on something that takes us so far away from our writing? Learn some of the latest marketing tips and strategies that will empower your work while also help build a community around you. Join a discussion between two experts as they unpack freedom from “platform” and the philosophy behind community-building. Writers will get a better sense of who they are as writers, their audience, and where they see themselves fitting in the industry—all things that help develop and drive a platform.


The True Definition of Success—Lynn Austin

What does it mean to be a successful writer? Bestseller lists? Huge royalty checks? Long lines at book signing events? If we don’t define what it means to us, personally, how will we know when we’ve achieved it? Bestselling author Lynn Austin helps writers think through what success really means.


— Keynote Addresses—James Scott Bell —


Write Like You’re In Love—Friday evening

Unleash the joy in your writing because that’s what makes it unique and memorable. Learn how to go in, let go, and wrap your arms around your work.

Edit Like You’re in Charge—Saturday

Love needs nurture. Once you’re married to your book, you need tools and techniques to make it shine so readers will love it too. Then send it forth with a push and a prayer.


–Saturday Morning Words—Brenda Yoder–