Arts and Entertainment

Whidbey writers conference back in stride

Garth Stein poses with a dog named Comet, who represents the main character of his breakout bestselling novel, “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” The story is told from the perspective of a dog named Enzo.  - Photo courtesy of Garth Stein
Garth Stein poses with a dog named Comet, who represents the main character of his breakout bestselling novel, “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” The story is told from the perspective of a dog named Enzo.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Garth Stein

When the writers conference comes to town, dreams are sharpened, along with the skills of perhaps the next bestselling author.

The Whidbey Island Writers Conference is ready to get back into its full weekend swing after slogging through the economic downturn, which forced an abbreviated version of the event last year. Thanks to some enthusiastic fundraising, grants and community donations, including a matching grant of $15,000 from the Elizabeth George Foundation in 2010, the conference organizers have prepared a veritable craftsman’s tournament of information for all those ink-stained wretches who love to write.

Authors, agents and editors will descend on Coupeville from Friday, April 1 through Sunday, April 3 for a weekend packed with plenty of skill-sharpening workshops and chats for authors, as well as events for the public to attend at minimal or no charge.

Conference director Susan Wilmoth said she and her team of volunteers have pulled out all the stops to make this year’s conference a great experience for everyone.

“We’re thrilled to have all the wonderful presenters and participants come to our beautiful island to join us for a weekend of instruction and inspiration as each seeks to hone their craft and share their skill,” Wilmoth said.

“Many thanks also to our island community for their enthusiasm and support. My personal thanks to the tireless and dedicated conference team and community volunteers for all their efforts,” she added.

Conference-goers can expect a few choice words from keynote speaker Garth Stein, author of “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” who will introduce the conference at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 2, with “Let Me Tell You a Story,” which talks about the relationship between writer and reader.

Other intriguing workshops, walk-in or reserved, call for writers to “Find Success Connecting with Your Muse: a Glimpse of the Amherst Artists and Writer’s Method,” with Helen Sears (Friday); or to find that “Perfect Pitch: Prepare for Success” with agent Andrea Hurst (Friday); or even how to “Optimize Your Sales Potential: Amazon for Authors,” with Greg Spils (Sunday).

Ask any conference aficionado and he or she might tell you that the heart of the Whidbey Island version is its ubiquitous fireside-chat houses that take place in some of Coupeville’s most well-appointed private homes or quaint bed-and-breakfast establishments. The chats provide an intimate setting for spontaneous dialogues and in-depth discussions with authors, editors and agents. Subjects at the chat houses vary and include adult market, children’s market, fiction, memoir/personal essay, the newspaper/magazine biz, mystery/suspense, non-fiction and poetry.

Writers may also stumble on their big break at the conference if they participate in critiques and/or pitch consults with authors, agents and editors by signing up ahead of time. Prepare an “elevator speech” and pitch a story in six minutes for $20.

After the meat of the matter has been mulled, questioned and pitched, and has awakened the muse, relax at the Saturday evening dinner at 6:30 p.m. with authors, agents, editors and fellow conference attendees at the Coupeville Rec Hall. A guest speaker will entertain guests with a final presentation, while food and wine and congenial company are enjoyed. Anyone can attend the dinner with a reservation and $50.

Curious Georges who don’t want to attend the full conference, but who would like a taste of the event, are welcome to attend a poetry reading, “All Kinds of Families,” presented by Brave New Words and featuring Gloria Burgess, Matt Gano, Lana Hechman Ayers and Peter Ludwin from

7 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 1, at the Coupeville Library; or a theater performance featuring Martha Murphy and Robin Strahan in “Collected Stories” by Donald Margulies at 7:30 p.m. at the Coupeville Rec Hall. On Saturday, April 2, for $5 at the door, book lovers can hobnob with authors at the book signing reception at 5:15 p.m. at Coupeville High School.

Interested persons may attend any or all of the conference days.

Use the website registration form, or call 331-0307 to purchase tickets. A list of the featured authors, agents and editors and a copy of the official conference program, with a detailed schedule and registration details, is available at

Wilmoth had one more thing to add before the Whidbey Island Writers Conference rolls out the welcome wagon.

“Don’t forget to write,” she said.



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