Juniper Creek: Small World, Big Words
By Cathe Jones
There is a lot to be said for smaller conferences. Faces don't blend together in a flock of mayhem. The local culture bleeds out into the hallways in a warm, worn path, rather than a flashing window of a train zooming past. Nametags become gentle reminders rather than blazes of one-upmanship. And, a handshake is remembered along with a face.
Juniper Creek Writer's Conference, held in Carson City, Nevada, is in its second year. Run by poet Bill Cowee and Young Adult author Ellen Hopkins, this event brings together children's authors, agents, poets, artists, and fiction and nonfiction writers. There were some attendees who ran lit magazines, and others who simply were thinking of writing for the first time in their lives and wanted guidance. With a poet and a YA author at the helm, events were stronger in these fields. Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry Magazine, (http://www.poetrymagazine.org), gave the keynote speech.
Like all new conferences of this type, there are certainly areas for improvement. The Web site wasn't clear as to where the event was being held, or how to get there, or where to pick up registration packages. The schedules were simply listings of names and gave no specifics as to the topics. You had to read four sheets of paper to figure out what to do and where to find the workshops. And, there were some snafus with lunches on the first full day. It was a bit male heavy on the literary panel, but then again, many editorial boards are testosterone-filled. The number of children's authors greatly outweighed any other represented writer, so book sales’ tables tended to cater to this. Lastly, the Carson City hotels aren't exactly geared to authors. Most hotels seem to be surviving on the credit cards of bikers and drunken teenagers who couldn't get a room in nearby Reno.
However, the benefits of a conference of this size, approximately one hundred attendees and volunteers, outweighed anything that could remotely be considered faults. One-on-one manuscript critiques were set up for a very fair price of $30 per 30 pages, per manuscript. The agents seemed focused, and three really had done the job of reading prior to meeting authors. The agents were warmly approached during workshops, and not hunted down by panic-filled first time writers begging to have a shot. Sure, there were one or two hyper-elitists, who thought faux nouveaux British accents were the only way to speak, along with words that haven't existed since the writing of Canterbury Tales. But, generally, everyone had something to offer, as panelist or workshop attendee, and did so willingly and without pomposity.
The workshops were not so tightly scheduled that aspirin was needed to get through the day. There were four rooms for the fields of Business, Poetry, Children, and Prose. A special area was set up for critiques. Water and snacks were sold for modest prices, and a raffle was held. Three local writers' groups gave proof that small towns produce some wonderful word artistry. A Web publicist did a great job in bringing technology and Web ideas to the event, but there wasn't a lot of discussion on marketing other than this.
Humor, artwork, and the processes of publishing each were highlighted. In one workshop, the topic was lyrics as a matter of poetry, which was explained by a western music musician who also works for the state health department. The poetry aspect permeated all workshops. In fact, if there are any poets or children's writers looking for a place to meet each other, this is definitely the conference to attend.
In the future, if it is to grow, the conference will need to tap into more advanced topics. Marketing for writers should be more solidly addressed. Nonfiction and fiction articles were not on the menu at all, and yet many attendees had expressed interest in learning how to submit to periodicals. The local writers' groups were given special attention, but with an attendance of that number, it didn't seem necessary to remove outsiders from specific submissions for critiques.
The area this event is held in certainly is beautiful and inspires writing. After hours events included a wine tasting, poetry reading, and a wonderfully catered evening of music. The weather in Carson City was unusually hot. Nearby Virginia City served as a place to escape prior to or after the event. This town could have served as a metaphor for this conference. Out of the mountains and mining areas appeared a town created with so much beauty it could only stand in a quarter mile space. Juniper Creek Writers Conference is a surprising find of large minds in a small town, and I will attend again.