The Cascade Writers Conference was fantastic! It’s taken me a few days to recover and gather my thoughts—something I’m noticing around the web as a commonality between other attendees of this adventure—but now I’m excited to share how much fun I had!
I found the Cascade Writers workshop by random googling of “fantasy writing conference + summer,” and I can’t be happier at the twist of fate that landed me in Vancouver, Washington this last weekend. I don’t know if I would have had the same experience at any other workshop, but I’m so grateful that this was my first. I met oodles of fantastic people, beautiful minds, and lovely souls, and I came home like a kid bemoaning the end of summer camp!
Critique workshopping was the main focus of the Cascade Conference. Each attendee submitted a 3,750 word story or chapter about six weeks in advance, and was assigned to a group of six to eight people under the guidance of a skilled group leader. We were expected to critique the piece before the conference, where we used the Milford style to share our thoughts. Initially, the task seemed daunting—peers and a leader critiquing our words, and then being expected to professionally, kindly, and thoughtfully do the same for those around us. But the groups were generally warm and friendly, and in my group in particular, quite fun! Ken Scholes, a speculative fiction author, led our group, and we all left feeling as though we’d gained an incredible mentor and friend. After the critiquing, each member had a one-on-one session with mentors to discuss anything about the craft. I’m not sure if this personalized guidance component happens at other conferences, but it certainly helped me!
The event also boasted workshops and seminars on all sorts of pieces to the craft: a playful segment on “Revision and Editing” with Jay Lake, a tremendously helpful piece to “Outline Your Story in 90 Minutes” by Mark Teppo, a creative journey to find “Stories on the Fly” by Ken Scholes, and an informative “Query Letter Workshop” with Michael Carr (the agent with whom I had the opportunity to informally practice chatting about my book). Several other segments filled the time, but these were my favorites for their usefulness and approaches to the topic at hand.
The instructional component through seminars and critique workshops was grand, but one aspect of the conference remained the best experience of them all: that of talking and getting to know other authors. The world is a competitive place, but the writing world is not. There’s no reason for it! Each of us brings something unique to the table, and writers stand out as a tribe of people opening their arms and sharing their craft with one another. I learned so much this weekend, but my favorite part was the chance to get to know these people on a personal level and just hang out. I came home with over two dozen new contacts and friends that I’m delighted to have in my circle. In some cases the connection focused on the craft itself, and in others, it was just about making amazing friends—going to lunch with fifteen-people groups, sharing flash fiction in a hotel room with three great gals in my group, or even closing down the nearby bar talking “life” with the brilliant and fun minds of Patrick Swenson (author, publisher, and editor of speculative fiction) and Mark Teppo (speculative fiction author and conference speaker). I hardly slept, I ate and drank a tad too much, and I came home still feeling warm and fuzzy at the warm mental hugs we all shared.
All in all, would I do it again? Yes. Absolutely.
Can any conference compare to the awesomeness of the Cascade Writers Workshop? I’ve no idea, but I’m looking forward to trying more.
And what were the best things I learned? Write, write, write, and write more, and of course, make lots of new friends.
A big thank you to Karen Junker, who did a spectacular job of organizing the event. (And also a thank you to the very nice bar server who let us stay well-past closing. )
Keep writing, everyone!