Summer Conference 2019 Workshop Descriptions and Leader Bios

Sarah Loudin Thomas (www.sarahloudinthomas.com) is a fund-raiser for a children's ministry who has time to write because she doesn't have children of her own. She holds a bachelor's degree in English from Coastal Carolina University and is the author of the acclaimed novels The Sound of Rainand Miracle in a Dry Season--winner of the 2015 Inspy Award. Sarah has also been a finalist for the ACFW Carol Award and the Christian Book of the Year Award. A native of West Virginia, she and her husband now live near Asheville, NC.

COMPASS POINT PLOTTING - Are you a plotter or a pantser? Half the fun of writing for pantsers is spontaneously learning what happens next. If you plot, then where’s the joy of discovery? BUT, if you don’t plot at all, you can easily run up against a brick wall or find yourself wandering down a dead end road. Compass point plotting offers direction without detail. You set several key points for your story, take a compass reading, and set out to see what you discover between here and there. You’ll have all the joy of unexpected surprises without the risk of getting lost.

PLACE AS CHARACTER--STRONG SETTINGS - The setting for my novels–Appalachia–is practically its own character. Let’s discuss tips and techniques for making your setting as strong as your story no matter where you place your characters. Come ready to discuss your own setting and what you can do to make it come alive for your readers.

WRITING FOR THE CHRISTIAN MARKET - Do you write inspirational fiction? Join us for a discussion of the difference between ABA (general market) and CBA (Christian market). We'll talk about what sets Christian fiction apart including the words, tropes, and situations that might make your work difficult to place with a Christian publisher. We'll also talk about what Christian fiction is NOT (boring, tame, preachy, etc.)!


DAVID B. PRATHER received his MFA in creative writing from Warren Wilson College, where he studied with Steve Orlen, Agha Shahid Ali, Tony Hoagland, and Joan Alesire.  His debut collection of poetry, We Were Birds, is forthcoming from Main Street Rag Publishing.  His work has appeared in several print and online literary journals, including Prairie Schooner, Colorado Review, The Literary Review, Poet Lore, The American Journal of Poetry, and others.  He also studied acting at the National Shakespeare Conservatory in New York.  David tries to live a writer’s life, as well as occasionally acting/directing at the Actors Guild of Parkersburg.

GETTING PERSONAL - This poetry workshop focuses on the writer’s ability to draw upon actual experience to create a new reality.  Examples of how lyric and narrative styles can benefit from the strength of fact (as opposed to the ideal of truth) will be offered for examination and discussion.  While the extremely personal nature of Confessional poetry fell out of favor (with a backlash toward more language-oriented work), the strength of this mid-twentieth century style changed the path of poetry, with modern poets like Sharon Olds advancing the prosody of personalized art.

BREAKING THE LINE - This poetry workshop is an activity-based experience in which we will explore various poems that have been deconstructed so that participants can explore one of the basics of prosody: Lineation.  These exercises will aid in exploring each writer’s rhythm and sound work by divorcing the writer from his/her language and style, thereby allowing participants a better understanding of their own patterns and methods.  Participants will be asked to pencil (or pen) breaks in work they may or may not be familiar with, so we can compare our work and see how different decisions can be valuable.

THE LOST ART OF DESCRIPTION - One of the greatest pleasures of writing is achieving description that creates mood, characterization, tone, experience. All writers, whether poets, or novelists, or playwrights, or essayists (and so on)…all of us…have a basic need to describe the elements of the world. In this workshop we will discuss how our senses both help and betray us, how imagery helps us create reality, fantasy, beauty, sensation, and emotion. By examining various works and using certain exercises, we will find and recapture the great art of description.


KARI GUNTER-SEYMOUR - Three times a pushcart nominee, Kari Gunter-Seymour’s chapbook Serving was chosen runner up in the 2016 Yellow Chair Review Annual Chapbook Contest and nominated for a 2018 Ohioana Award. Her poems can be found in many fine journals, Rattle, Crab Orchard Review, CALYX, Still, Main Street Rag and on her website: www.karigunterseymourpoet.com. She is the founder/executive director of the Women of Appalachia Project: www.womenofappalachia.com, an Instructor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University and Poet Laureate for Athens, OH.

Food for Thought, A Taste-Based Workshop - Participants in this workshop will create poems based on flavor, texture, and aroma, relying on your eyes, ears, nose, and taste buds to inform the content of your poetry, all the while exploring the connections (ie. mind wonderings) that taste cultivates in the brain. Worry not, touch will not be left out of this saliva inducing adventure.

Go to your UNHAPPY PLACE! A Workshop on Building Atmosphere and Tension -Participants in this workshop will be guided through a series of writing prompts concentrating on an unpleasant situation, personal or otherwise, with the goal of bridging past and present feelings of fear/unhappiness/dread by providing an opportunity for each of us to confront a particular memory, place, incident or situation of discomfort by way of “Sensory Poetry.” We will capture mental notes of those things, words, feelings, observations, discovered as we work our way through the senses, with a goal of releasing toxic energy out of our psyche and onto the page.


MICHAEL CONNICK was born and raised in San Francisco, lived in Europe and the Middle East, and has lived in WV for the past 13 years. Now retired, his career included work in the US intelligence community, the Department of Defense, and the technology industry. He was a Contributing Editor to the technology magazine PalmPower.  Michael has published three Cold War spy novels and a crime novel set in Huntington. His work also appears in ThrillWriting, The Writer’s Guide to Weapons, and Artistic License Renewed. 

Self-Publishing Your Book for $0 - This presentation will cover the art and science behind successfully self-publishing your book at zero, or near-zero, cost to you. Topics include using self-publishing services, cover design, editing, formatting, and a variety of free or low-cost marketing tools such as websites, social media, reviews, awards, traditional media, advertising, events, and, most importantly, free publicity.

Creating Believable Villains - “Cardboard” villains are the bane of many writers. This presentation will cover how to create villains that are compelling and believable. Topics include creating your villain’s backstory, defining their motivations, building sympathy for them, creating interesting accomplices, and describing their master plan. Examples of successful literary villains will be discussed and a short exercise presented for guiding you in creating your own memorable villain.

Weapons for Writers of Thrillers, Mysteries, and Crime Novels - Michael brings over 35 years of experience with weapons and tactics to this presentation. Topics include firearms (handguns, rifles, shotguns, submachine guns), knives, impact weapons, “non-lethal” weapons, and hand-to-hand combat. Common mistakes made by writers regarding weapons and tactics will be discussed and realistic and accurate writing examples presented.


KEITH JONES is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. His main area of interest is military history. He is also editor in chief of Fox Run Publishing, a company focusing on history of both popular and scholarly subjects. A native of Georgia, he has long made his home in North Carolina with his wife Melissa.  He has degrees from Anderson University, the University of South Carolina, and is pursuing a Masters in History at Liberty University.  He has developed an affinity for West Virginia over the last several years at the West Virginia Book Festival.

Effective Research on a Budget - Need to be an instant expert but don’t know where to start?  This session will discuss good sources for information that won’t require you to leave your office and a few that won’t take you too far away.  Free sources and those that can be had for a reasonable price, from online scholarly databases to getting at that obscure ten page document sitting in a local library five hundred miles away that is the key to your story, we will explore how to add authority and impact to your writing.

Can you handle writing the truth: Tips and Tricks for Fiction Practitioners Writing Non-Fiction - Got some history you are itching to write but have only written fiction?  This session will discuss various tips, tricks, and concerns surrounding the fiction writer making the shift to non-fiction.  Topics such as, “cutting the dead ‘would’: the need for more active voice in non-fiction,” basic rules for footnoting and citing sources, good storytelling without inventing fake facts, and others will be covered.  Yes, you can use your storytelling skills to write an interesting true story while maintaining good scholarship.


S.G. REDLING is a Huntington native, a graduate of Georgetown University, and a fifteen-year veteran of the WKEE morning radio show. After hanging up her headphones, she turned to fiction. She has released eight mind-bending thrillers and sci-fi novels, including the best-seller FLOWERTOWN, DAMOCLES, the Dani Britton series; the Nahan series, and BAGGAGE, her first novel set in West Virginia. She currently working on a new travel mayhem series, as well as giving writing workshops, and promoting tourism in Cabell and Wayne Counties. She also waves her arms around a lot.  Visit her online at http://www.sgredling.com/.

It's Complicated - Good stories rely on good characters and good characters are complicated. In this workshop, we will look out what makes characters – protagonists, antagonists, and everyone in between – compelling. Give your readers characters they can care about, worry about, rage at, and love to hate by understanding the complicated push-and-pull of their humanity. We’ll talk about basing characters on real people in your life, avoiding clichés and caricatures, and banishing Mary Sues and Red Shirts once and a for all.

The Art of Being a Weirdo - You want to be a writer? Then you’ve got to be brave and you’ve got to be (at least a little) weird. To be a successful writer whose story mine is never empty, you need to work that weirdo field. Challenge your creativity, question everything. We will discuss every day steps you can take to keep your creativity humming, make story ideas materialize everywhere you look, and protect that super weird goblin who must pull the story from your brain in this too-busy, demand-filled world.

Understanding Genre Promises - Every genre of fiction comes with particular promises, expectations, and values. A good writer ignores those promises at their peril. In this workshop, we will examine various genres of fiction to uncover the nuances of those promises. Even when novels cross genres, there are certain rules and expectations that must be met. From romance to cozy mystery to cyberpunk horror, understanding the value system and promises of your genre will help you clarify your story and keep you on track.


SARAH BLIZZARD ROBINSON'S works have been published in newspapers, including the Gulf Coast’s Sun Herald and Morgantown’s Dominion Post. An essay on her family’s maiden white-water rafting voyage on the Gallatin River is featured in Bozeman, Montana’s “Outside Bozeman” magazine. An essay entitled “Mountain Made,” plus her profile article on the late Anna Brown, a beloved West Virginia potter, were both published in Morgantown Living Magazine. Sarah looks forward to welcoming new and seasoned writers to her workshops.

The 4 G’s of Creating Memoir - Guts: Lessons learned in process - Sarah will share her journey: from the first short story to a personal family history workshop, to final memoir; Guidance: Heavy matters - Dealing with your “characters” and the potential repercussions, both foreseen and unforeseen; Good Editing: From whence comes my help? - Taking the plunge: trusting the ones who control the process; GPS: Know where you’re headed and where you hope to land - Setting realistic expectations for the end result, and the willingness to widen your range of emotion, using techniques outside the box

Answering the “Do-It-Yourself” Questions of Book Publishing - Sarah will cover many other questions concerning the implications for your book to reach your target audience. Expect the unexpected. This workshop will cover topics such as the importance of knowing your genre; developing and using your hashtags; the role of social media in marketing and your willingness to manage inventory and other business considerations.


ROB MERRITT is Professor and Chair of the English Department at Bluefield College. He is the author of poetry collections View from Blue-Jade Mountain (2019), The Language of Longing, and Landscape Architects.  Merritt has published articles on Pound, Joyce, and Yeats and the critical book Early Music and the Aesthetics of Ezra Pound.  His poetry and essays have appeared in Kestrel, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, The Pikeville Review, and The Asheville Poetry Review, among other journals, and the collections The Southern Poetry Anthology, Vol. VII: North Carolina; Wild Sweet Notes II: Contemporary West Virginia Writers; and Coal: An Anthology.

East-West: Using Chinese Poetic Techniques to Energize your Poetry - This workshop will look at examples of Chinese “rivers and mountains” poetry by Li Bai, Du Fu, and others—how they focus on the concrete, objective image—and we will use these techniques in some poems we will write, following the advice of Wei T’ei (eleventh century):“Poetry presents the thing, in order to convey the feeling. It should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling.”  We will look at some poems by Charles Wright, George Scarbrough, Jeff Daniel Marion and others to work on creating regional poems with Eastern nuance.

Mythologize Your Life: Your Story is The Chance You Have to Find Yourself - Looking at “mythic” poems by Rumi, Lawrence, Gluck, Eliot, Frost and other (including Appalachian) poets, we will write short poems about the supernatural, thresholds, guides, the abyss, treasure (grails), transformation, and return. We will place ourselves on the “Hero’s Journey” circle.  The plot of our lives unfolds.  We go from the known through the unknown seeking transformation. We will look at Appalachian heritage as a storehouse of mythological material, feel empowered by seeing ourselves as “heroes” of out stories, and create our “integrative life story” by “selectively reconstructing our past” as Erik Erickson suggests.

Love and Landscape: What We Can Learn from the Irish Poets - Does the land have memory?  Must landscape be “sublime” to be inspirational?  Can poetry bring about cultural healing in the face of the “nightmare of history”?  Are love poems possible in these ironic or post-ironic times? Can serious love poems be written about marriage?  How are the landscapes and lyricism of Ireland and Appalachia interconnected?  We shall widen our perceptions of what “Irish” means by looking at some poems by W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Medbh McGuckian, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, and Eavan Boland.  We will experiment with new ways to think about mountains and relationships.


BRAD BARKLEY is the author of Money, Love, which was a Barnes and Noble "Discover Great New Writers" selection and one of the ”Year’s Best” as named by the Washington Post.  His novel Alison's Automotive Repair Manual was a "BookSense 76" selection. He has published two collections of short stories,  three Young Adult novels, and his short fiction has appeared in over thirty magazines. Brad has won four Individual Artist Awards from the Maryland State Arts Council and a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.  He lives with his wife Kristin and their dog Mille.

I Was Young Once!  On Writing for Young Adults - J.D. Salinger, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, Michael Chabon, Carl Hiaasen—this is only a partial list of well-known writers who have turned their talents toward writing for Young Adults.  How is writing for this very special (in every sense) audience different from writing for adults?  How should writers approach such things as character, plot, and that oh-so-tricky teen voice?  In this workshop, we will converse about these and other questions related to writing for YA’s as we look at examples of the form, from our own work and published examples.  Bring some sample pages if you have them.

Premises & Particulars:  An Approach to Stories - We will look at how short stories can be thought of as breaking down into two important components:  premises and particulars.  These components are inventions, designed to provide a template which will allow you to look closely at both character and plot, together and separately.  We will also consider how this model applies to the building and understanding of characters independent of plot and of story.  I want to use the template as a way to think about exactly what is happening on the page, the methods by which we shape the clay.

Floaty-Groundy:  A Way of Thinking About Character and Plot - We will be talking about the invisible and symbiotic dance that happens at the meeting point between character and plot.  Characters can be thought of as either floating or grounded, as can plots. We will talk about what these labels mean, look at examples, and think about how to revise your fiction to take advantage of the ideal pairing of floating and grounded, character and plot. We will also take a couple of side trips to talk about story ideas. I ask students to be ready to talk about their favorite short stories or movies as well.


ELIOT PARKER is the author of four novels, the most recent being A Knife's Edge, the sequel to the award-winning novel Fragile Brilliance. A winner of the West Virginia Literary Merit Award and a finalist for the Southern Book Prize in Thriller Writing, Eliot hosts the television show "Chapters" along the Armstrong Television Network that profiles authors, editors, and publishers in West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky. He also hosts the "Now, Appalachia" international podcast program, courtesy of the Authors on The Air Global Radio Network that reaches listeners in 13 different countries around the word.

Being the extroverted introverted writer - Description: How can writers, who are notoriously introverted, capitalize on all of the available ways to build and develop their author platforms. How can we, as writers, take advantage of all of the places (both online and in-person) that are available for platform-building. In this workshop, attendees will determine how much of an "introverted extrovert" they are and will discuss options for strengthening their author platform.

We have reached "the end:" how to end a piece of writing with resonance - What happens at the end of a good piece of writing? What should happen? In this workshop, attendees will discuss how the end often resonates because something surprising, and unexpected, happens that we didn't expect as the author. Using examples from both fiction and non-fiction, attendees will learn how to end a piece of writing with resonance and leave a strong impression with readers.


PATRICIA HOPPER PATTESON is a native of Dublin, Ireland and resides in West Virginia. She holds a B.A.  and an M.A. from West Virginia University (WVU).  She has received honors in creative writing from WVU in addition to numerous awards from the West Virginia Writers’ annual competition. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in magazines, newspapers, reviews, and anthologies. She is the author of a three-part family saga about nineteenth century O’Donovans. First in the series is Kilpara, followed byCorrib Red, and lastly Aunjel. Her first romance novel Hearts Apart was published by Red Sage Publishing.

Blending Facts and Fiction in the Historical Novel - Historians relate to actual historical events in history. In this workshop we focus on how to involve characters in historical events and experience the past through their eyes. We look at how we select a period in history; how our characters lived back then, and how to draw drama into a real-life work of fiction. We discuss fictionalizing characters while staying true to historical facts—and how far we can stretch artistic license. We explore physical settings, real or imagined; the worldview of characters, their values, habits, speech, and general sensibilities.

Elements of Novel Development - Beneath every captivating novel are interconnected elements that hold it together and make for great storytelling. The novel that sparks your imagination may come from one of three elements: concept, character, theme, and less often, story structure. All four elements are the building blocks that make a story take shape. These are the criteria that define storytelling, in addition to scene execution and narrative voice. In this workshop we’ll examine these criteria and what each one means to story development.


LUCIA ST. CLAIR ROBSON'S first historical novel,  Ride the Wind made the New York Times best-seller list and was named  one of the 100 best Westerns of the 20th century.  Since then she has written about the Cherokees, the Seminoles, the Apaches, feudal Japan , early Maryland , the 1846 war with Mexico , the American Revolution, and the 1917 Mexican Revolution.  Her tenth novel, Devilish, is a contemporary mystery with a supernatural twist. The Western Writers of America have named two of her novels as recipients of their Spur Award.

Metaphors Be with You (or “Pattering Flash”) - We’ll discuss sources of period language, humor, and attitudes, and how to use them in narration and dialogue.  The session will include handouts of a mix-and-match list of (mostly) extinct insults and vulgar terms, then having fun with them.

The Night the Ghost Got In - Using aspects of personality, appearance, and social background when developing unique characters.  We’ll discuss ways to allow them to speak for themselves, rather than putting words in their mouths.  Also, how to deal with unlikeable characters.


GINGER MORAN'S areas of expertise are in nonfiction and fiction writing and editing. She has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English from the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Houston. She has published in salon.com, Oxford American, the Virginia Quarterly Review, among other journals and magazines. Her first novel, The Algebra of Snow, was nominated for a Pushcart Editor’s Choice Award and published in 2012. She has life and creativity coaching certifications and is a graduate of the National Speakers Association Academy.   She works with aspiring writers who want to write great books.

Lean Inner: Open Up Your Creative Inner Space - Using techniques such as journaling and the Martha Beck Living Space tool, participants will learn how to address limiting beliefs about their writing such as doubt of their talent, feelings of being a fraud or imposter, fear of disapproval, and unclear goals. In this workshop, we will explore those limits and go beyond them to open up space internally that allows us to establish the purpose and momentum to fuel a regular writing practice. Participants will receive a handout on planning their writing year.

Cut to the Chase: What All Successful Novels & Memoirs Have, Where You’ll Find It, and the 4-Step Process for You to Have It Too - When I was taking fiction writing classes from Donald Barthelme at the University of Houston, he would occasionally stop someone from reading the first page of a story out loud and ask, “Does this get better?” What we learned is that every novel and memoir must start with a problem that engages the reader’s attention. Without that, the story won’t work. In this workshop participants will learn what is meant by “a problem” in fiction or creative nonfiction, where to put it, and how to support it so that the reader’s attention, once gained, never flags.


DAWN FREDERICK is the owner/literary agent of Red Sofa Literary, established in 2008. She brings a broad knowledge of the book business to the table, bringing multiple years of experience as a bookseller in independent, chain, and specialty stores; sales, marketing, and book development experience; previously a literary agent at Sebastian Literary Agency. She has a B.S. in Human Ecology, and M.S. in Information Sciences. Dawn co-founded the MN Publishing Tweet Up, is the current President of the Twin Cities Advisory Council for MPR, a on the BOD for Loft Literary, and Loft Literary teaching artist. Her Twitter: @redsofaliterary.

Traditional vs. Indie Publishing - Publishing any book will take time, it’s a task that requires time and foresight on the part of any author.  One of the biggest questions that many authors will consider is – Should I self-publish, or do I continue to query agents?  In this class, we will highlight the differences around this decision, as well as things any writer needs to take into consideration when choosing which direction to go.

Understanding and Writing MG and/or YA - You have a love of #kidlit and want to share your love by writing a Middle Grade (MG) or Young Adult (YA) novel, maybe both.  In this class we’ll discuss the differences between a MG and YA novel, as well as the best practices for creating an engaging story that will be appreciated by both children and adults.  These tips will help as you create and finalize those worlds you’ve created for readers.


STACEY GRAHAM is an associate agent with Red Sofa Literary, coming to them from the other side of the literary desk as an author, humorist, screenwriter, ghostwriter, and freelance editor. Stacey is currently looking to add to her client list: Middle Grade, romance (adult), spooky fiction (adult), and quirky nonfiction. She lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband and five children. She considers the resulting nervous tick from her children to be charming.

Session description: Two Men Walk into a Bar — Humor Writing Workshop - Turn the small things into big laughs while learning the nitty-gritty of humor writing with author and agent Stacey Graham in this fast-paced workshop. Stacey will cover the element of surprise, sentence structure, pacing, and the Triple Threat of comedy to keep readers turning the pages instead of turning on Netflix. We will break down what makes great writers funny and how to capture your own voice to connect with readers through a series of interactive exercises and the opportunity to share your work.

Session description: Rogue Books: Why Your Book May Be Missing the Mark with Agents and Editors - Have a great book but it’s not being picked up by editors or agents? Author and agent Stacey Graham from Red Sofa Literary shares tips on where your book may have gone rogue and how to get it back on a traditional publishing path.


MICHAEL AND CARRIE KLINE met through a love of singing, old-time music and the oral tradition. They've made a life together performing music, gathering stories, and documenting the experiences of new immigrants and long-established residents of Appalachia and beyond, aiming to sustain families and communities through folklife documentation, listening projects and music. As the name of their business states, they build cross-cultural understanding through “Talking Across the Lines.” The Klines weave West Virginia stories and folklore with spine tingling harmonies on voice and guitar. They present their music both as entertainment and social history, with engaging ease and hard-hitting passion.

Listening for a Change: Gathering Local Memory and Wisdom - Get beyond the printed pages of written history into the thickets of local memory and knowledge. This course offers techniques for recording the voices and testimonials of those not usually included in the public record. Learn about the kinds of customs rarely found in books, from the lips of Allegheny elders whose youth was shaped by everyday conventions. Practice techniques for garnering the stories of ordinary people as conveyors of community values and individual creative expression. Participants will learn how to "birth" a story, gaining an appreciation for deep history and spoken arts, useful in our primary research and writing.


BURKE ALLEN and his Washington DC-based firm Allen Media Strategies has represented dozens of authors and books, including New York Times #1 bestsellers, publishers including Simon and Schuster, Harper Collins, St. Martins Press, and Thomas Nelson as well as small press and independent/self-published authors. A frequent speaker at events for authors and subject matter experts, Burke’s clients have appeared on hundreds of leading media organizations worldwide including newspapers, magazines, television, print, radio and online outlets. Burke is a proud native of Logan County, West Virginia.

The 10 Biggest Mistakes Authors Make With Publicity: During his two decade career working with New York Times and Amazon.com #1 best selling authors, Allen Media Strategies Director of Fun Burke Allen has seen authors do things very well…and also seen them really screw up their publicity efforts. If your goal is to get more readers (and that’s kind of a big deal to most writers), then it’s a good idea to not only know what to do, but also what not to do when it comes to media, marketing and P.R. for your book!  Burke has seen plenty of authors really blow it, but along the way has also helped secure small press and even self published authors major media exposure, including CNN, Newsweek, Fox News, MSNBC, USA Today, the Washington Post, and a ton more outlets, and he’s happy to show you how to do it too. Plus, each panel attendee will receive a free radio/podcast interview just for attending. If you’re serious about getting more readers, don’t miss this session!