In November, when most of us settle in for a long, chilly winter, participants at the Kauai Writers Conference gather at the Marriott Resort to learn and network, kayak and surf, and stroll across white sands under palm trees. “We have such a rich and diverse faculty that writers are torn,” explains conference director David Katz. “Should they go see a best-selling author or go to the beach?”
There’s so much to see and do, in fact, that people end up taking advantage of the conference hotel’s reduced rates for three days before and three days after the conference – the better to merge business with pleasure.
The first day of the conference begins with a traditional Hawaiian blessing and concludes with a luau featuring singers, dancers, and traditional slack key guitar. “The luau brings people into the understanding of Hawaiian culture,” Katz explains. “We don’t want to be just a conference that happens in Hawaii. We want to be genuinely Hawaiian.”
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What you’ll learn
Master classes on Nov. 5-8 include a four-day focus on memoir or poetry and four half-days of instruction in screenwriting, voice in fiction, character psychology, independent publishing, and how to find and work with an agent. “Go to a master class, if possible,” Katz advises. “They’re all run by people who were specifically chosen not just as well-known authors but as outstanding teachers of writing.”
The writing conference, Nov. 9-11, offers a blend of craft workshops, inspirational presentations, and opportunities to pitch work to agents and editors. Participants can sign up for manuscript critiques and consultations as well. These sessions take place in gazebos and nooks overlooking the hotel pool and the ocean.
To ensure that participants get to meet with the agents and authors who will be of most value to them and to their particular writing project, the conference offers free phone consultations prior to registration. (Interested writers can visit the conference website for details about these consultations.)
“We’ll ask you about what you’re writing and whether you’ve published a book before and get a feel for who you should meet at the conference,” Katz explains. “Maybe you should be sure to connect with Christina Baker Kline or be sure to have lunch with Jane Smiley.”
This year, the conference welcomes best-selling authors Smiley, Garth Stein, Alice Hoffman, Sara Gruen, Kristin Hannah, Scott Turow, Baker Kline, and others. Ellen Bass will speak about the power of metaphor in poetry and prose, while Kaui Hart Hemmings will teach writers how to create a sense of place. Jeff Arch will give a talk titled “How a Schoolteacher wrote ‘Sleepless in Seattle,’” while Stephanie Cabot and Emma Sweeney will discuss “The Agent/Author/Publisher Triangle.”
Independent publishing experts Jon Fine, April Eberhardt, and Brooke Warner will be on hand to talk about exciting alternatives to traditional publishing. “The reality is that the majority of people who attend any writers’ conference are probably not going to get a big advance from Random House,” Katz explains. “We want to serve a broad community of writers. Independent publishing is not a second choice. Years ago, there was a real stigma against self-publishing. Now, because of e-books, those days are gone.”
Advice for first-time attendees
Katz urges newcomers to spend time on the conference website, clicking through the various links and reading participants’ bios to see what they’ve written and what they teach. “If you spend an hour or two going through our website, you’ll gain a good understanding of the opportunities that are available at the conference,” he says.
Don’t be afraid to grab those opportunities, he adds, from master classes to informal discussions in the lush gardens to impromptu walks on the beach. “All of our attending authors are just people,” he explains. “They weren’t born famous authors. They’re here to share their stories with people who would like to follow in their footsteps.”
Katz counts as his favorite part of the Kauai Writers Conference the spontaneous interactions and meetings between faculty and participants. “There’s this informal openness because we’re meeting at this beautiful place right on the beach,” he explains. “Everyone just kind of lets their hair down.”
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of the middle-grade novel Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016). She teaches frequently at writing conferences across the Pacific Northwest. Web: melissahart.com.
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