2022 Presentation Descriptions
Saturday, March 12th, 2022
Session One- 10:30AM-11:30AM
1A "The Glue of Story: Five Things You Must Know About Your Main Characters" -Shellie Arnold (workshop format)
What makes a story work? What makes characters not only come alive on the page but stay in our hearts and minds for the rest of our lives?
In this workshop, writers will learn the five things they must know about their main character and how to use these five things to make their story relatable, believable, and unforgettable. We will define a character arc and examine how to use back story to our advantage, to take our characters—and readers—where we want them to go. Through exercises, attendees will plan or refine their character’s arc, supporting back story, and incremental changes at plot points. Attendees will also determine the premise that will guide their story to completion and guide readers to a satisfying yet realistic ending.
1B "Poetry Reading, Plus Sharing Work from 'Fission of Form'" -Shirley Stevens (one-to-many format)
I would like to present a poetry workshop in which I will read some of my Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania poems which have been published in several anthologies including "Along These Rivers," "Commonwealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania," and "The Potter's Wheel." I would also like to share poems from "Fission of Form," a publication resulting from a collaboration among Pittsburgh poets, illustrators, and sculptors. I will introduce some of the other poets represented in these anthologies. If time allows, I am willing to offer a prompt for workshop participants to try.
1C "Book Reviewers Roundtable" -Fred Shaw, Kristofer Collins, Bill O'Driscoll, & Tony Norman (panel discussion format)
For this roundtable discussion with some of the leading literary critics of Northern Appalachia, four seasoned writers consider the role of traditional print media in the digital age, when so many are reviewing on a host of digital platforms. The panel will touch on elemental questions, such as: What interests reviewers? How do reviewers position and propose work? What are the tips for the trade of reviewing? Also, what is the role of a critic in a world where everyone is asked to critique almost everything? How do critics balance their parts as literary connoisseurs? Who is the audience for this type of writing when literature plays a diminished part in the lives of so many? These are just some of the topics this panel seeks to make sense of as they consider their place in the business of writing.
1D "Giving Voice to Place" -Kirk Judd (workshop)
Where I Am From, by George Ella Lyon, is the most famous poetry workshop approach to defining and understanding a sense of place. But how do you find the voice of that place, that setting and scene that is not only where you are from, but also a large part of who you are? Many times, we view those places as more than simple memories – we assign them anthropomorphic qualities and think of them as friends or family. They take on character and persona in our psyche, and those traits become deeply ingrained in our individuality and behavior as well as in our personal history and future direction. Through a unique process of creating images and blending them into familiar descriptors of location and time, this workshop will explore ways to give voice to the special places in your life and to help you find the voice to respond to them in kind.
Giving Voice to Place will twist familiar hands-on workshop exercises into original ways of looking at personal histories, providing participants opportunities to craft those authentic visions into the beginnings of new work.
1E "Northern Appalachia Magical Realism: Expanding Our Humanity Through Our Craft Landscapes.." -Lisa Harris (one-to-many)
Landscapes of the heart, mind, and spirit emerge from, collide with, and integrate alongside physical spaces. Northern Appalachia Literature can reveal the intersections of real-world settings with the mystical, spiritual and supernatural. What happens when the concrete world and the spiritual world collide and then are unified? How do characters accept hardship, and overcome it, by being in a deep relationship with the landscape of Northern Appalachia? Crafting narratives and poems to demonstrate how magical events elevate the pedestrian, expand human thought, and embrace Northern Appalachian culture has been my life’s work. By juxtaposing fantastical elements with real-world landscapes, specifically central Pennsylvania, as well as Georgia and Nova Scotia, I create worlds where characters can heal themselves into wholeness.
Cultures intersect, characters are pushed between past and present, urban and rural, spiritual and pedestrian, while they locate the truth about themselves—confronting fear and transcending it. Metaphors break assumptions about life and reality open—the way sprouting trees crack rocks. As humans, we break ourselves open, break ourselves out, and increase our understanding of what it means to be human. Crafting stories and poems is one way to change the light, depress or amplify sounds, merge scents, clarify the texture of stone, and taste life in new ways. In Northern Appalachia literature, magical realism lives with us in the rocks and shale, the coal and natural gas, the food we eat, the songs we sing, and the stories we tell. This presentation will explore and explicate concepts of past, present, and future; urban, suburban, and rural; spiritual and pragmatic in Northern Appalachian culture, demonstrating how Northern Appalachian literature is distinct from other regions' fiction. I will read excerpts from my novels, poems, and memoir to illustrate how the combination and integration of these traits express themselves uniquely while healing the human spirit. There will be time for questions and answers after the presentation.
2A "Pittsburgh Writers and Tolsun Books" -Gabriel Welsch, Brittany Hailer, & Caitlyn Hunter (3-to-many)
This reading will feature three Tolsun Books writers working in Pittsburgh, in fiction, poetry, and memoir. Each writer's recent or forthcoming book includes work borne of their place in Appalachia. Gabriel Welsch ("Groundscratchers," a collection of short stories), Brittany Hailer ("Animal You'll Surely Become," poetry and memoir), and Caitlyn Hunter ("Power in the Tongue," memoir and folktale).
Tolsun Books publishes daring, energetic books that use separate parts to construct a whole: poetry, short stories, comics poetry, hybrids, photo stories, flash memoir, and more. Tolsun Publishing proudly practices stewardship in the literary community by publishing debut and experienced authors with diverse backgrounds, licensing artwork from working artists and designers, tabling at bookfairs, presenting at literary conferences, and hosting readings.
Lately, the press has a growing list of authors in Pennsylvania, building on its early successes in Arizona and Nevada, where it is headquartered. The readers on this panel represent a range of writing happening in this region.
2B "Writing Place, Writing Voice: A Workshop for Discovery, Creation, and Release" -Shan Overton (workshop)
The writer’s voice is a strange and shy thing, a bird cautiously, curiously hopping out from behind the tree leaves to look around at the landscape. Sometimes, the bird sits on a branch and waits to be found. Other times, voice has to be created intentionally in the writing process, the bird spoken into existence by a series of choices the writer makes. Eventually, voice has to be set free to allow readers’ imaginations to see and hear what is there on the page – and to fly beyond even that. This writing workshop provides an overview of a three-phase, integrative process of working on voice (discovery-creation-release) through reading poems, writing in response to prompts, and discussing the results.
When a writer grounds her/himself in a sense of place, the process of voicing shifts, becoming less about the self’s little circumscribed world and more about a larger, more vivid context in which the self lives as one among many creatures, entities, things, movements. The process involves dislocating self (or, perhaps better said, disorienting the self’s small projects) by locating or rooting self in a place. This invites possibilities not only for greater insights and inventions, but also for the writer to surprise her/himself. After all, the writer is her/his own first, best reader – the first person to witness that voice, that bird singing and flitting off the page or the tree limb. Place, which at first glance, seems limited and limiting, can become a conduit for a kind of self-transcendence, a vehicle for voice with further reach.
To provide an overview of the integrative process of discovery, creation, and release, this workshop engages writers in a series of short exercises focused on place, followed by sharing in small groups to further our discussion on voice. We will also enjoy brief excursions into the particular ways that place can help us witness voice, as seen and heard in the work of Pittsburgh-born poet Gerald Stern (who is from “Pittsburgh, beautiful filthy Pittsburgh”) as well as more recent resident poets, Judith Vollmer (who “feel[s] less and less like /a single self” in an encounter with house spiders) and Toi Derricotte (who writes of cherry blossoms “whispering / Be patient / you have an ancient beauty”).
While a short workshop cannot exhaust the possibilities of voice or the striking manifestations that this bird can make on the page, we will hop together to the edge of the tree limb and look around, see what is there. A whole new world awaits!
2C "Crafting Genuine Appalachian Culture: Honoring the Traditional While Avoiding the Stereotypical" -Marjorie Stewart, Zoe Yates, Sadi Murphy, Anna Childers (4-to-many)
This panel examines tensions between Appalachian traditions and the need for progress and social change. Four writers with interdisciplinary backgrounds and a wide range of Appalachian experiences discuss how they incorporate sensitive identity issues in their work. The struggle we face as writers is how to accurately portray those who stay in the Appalachian region and acclimate, holding steadfast to a pastoral way of life in resistance of change, and those who migrate away physically and mentally from our traditions in hopes of finding social reform in more industrialized settings, while honoring both tradition and progression. Featured excerpts from Sadie Murphy reveal how differing perspectives on tradition – or more accurately the breaking from traditions – causes conflict in her own interpersonal relationships. Attendees will not only witness true testimony to sensitive issues that break traditions but learn how to overcome Appalachian expectations to write more realistic identities.
Moderator Marjorie Stewart will discuss how her move from urban to rural Appalachia has informed her experience and her writing. As the other panelists, she will discuss achieving a balance between the conflicting forces of a changing culture. The group will explore the ways in which we choose to depict this in our stories, and how we can tell those stories in respectful ways. We strive to be Appalachian writers telling our truths without claiming to hold the one truth about the region.
2D "What's Sex Got To Do With It?" -Ginny Fite, Pam Clark, Lee Doty, John Deupree (4-to-many)
Writers often suffer from an internal censor, particularly when it comes to putting sex in their stories. We ask ourselves: Do I really need it? Will my mother/daughter/grandchild ever speak to me again if I write this? How much goes on the page? When do I fade to black? Will my local library shelve my book?
Or we throw caution to the wind and our writing suffers from the opposite problem: not knowing when to stop, leading to guffaw-inducing texts that take the reader out of the story at best or cause her to throw the book in the fire at worst.
Whether to include sex scenes in a short story, creative non-fiction, or a long novel isn’t in a to-do manual, although an abundance of opinions live on the Internet. But what if the useful question was, “What do you want the reader to feel at this moment and how would you achieve that?” In the context of the world the writer is creating for the reader, what experience is required at this particular moment to deepen the main character and advance the story, and is that experience constructed with more on the page or less?
The session will cover character, plot, intention, tone, and reader experience as the prime movers for making the sex on the page decision. Some slides and participation from the audience are required.
2E "The Practice of Doing Local History" -Gale Largey (one-to-many)
The presentation will share practical insights gathered from compiling information and producing books and documentaries with very limited budgets.
3A "Reflecting Reality: The Challenge of Fictional Setting In Northern Appalachia" -Hannah Allman Kennedy (one-to-many)
Northern Appalachia is a region with a rich heritage, a tumultuous past, and a hopeful future. As such, it is a place with abundant possibilites for fiction writers, especially ones with a tie to the region, to tell their stories. From shimmering cities, to cozy small towns, to rugged wildernesses, the fiction writer's options for setting are endless. But setting a story in Northern Appalachia can have its challenges, too. As local writers, we are driven to write because we want to tell the stories of the region we love so much. We want to recreate a moment, a place, a culture on the page, making meaning of our experiences so we can share them with the people we love and the strangers we do not yet know. We also want to enjoy the freedom that fiction gives us: to create new worlds within a real world, to synthesize experience and imagination, to explore the tension between fact and deeper truth, to ask “what if?”
However, in Northern Appalachia, a place so often either exploited and caricaturized or pitied and romanticized, fiction writers must learn to strike a balance, celebrating our homeland without sentimentalizing it, telling the truth about the struggle of a place without ridiculing it. To do this well, fiction writers often employ the same techniques used in memoir and other nonfiction writing: changing names, compositing people and places, compressing time, and introducing their own creative imagination, in order to protect these beloved places and people while still enjoying the freedom of creating a fictional narrative. Being represented in literature helps our region feel seen, but when is seeing voyeuristic? When is setting taking advantage? When must an author muddy the waters by employing creative license? And when does doing so compromise the truth of our telling? This presentation will seek to wrestle with these questions, exploring the tenuous relationship between representation and exploitation, the role of the author's imagination in creating Appalachian-inspired settings, and demonstrating love for the setting by depicting its many-faceted nature in all its brilliance.
3B "Viral Imaginations: COVID-19 Ekphrastic Expression" -Lauren Stetz & Michele Mekel (workshop)
Developed at Pennsylvania State University in April of 2020, the Viral Imaginations-COVID-19 project provides Pennsylvanians a creative outlet to share their pandemic experiences through submission to an online, publicly accessible digital archive. Through the sharing of art, creative writing, and poetry, members of the public have the opportunity to develop community, understanding, and empathy by sheltering in the arts and the humanities.
Delving into a creative archive of first-person pandemic experiences across numerous and diverse intersectionalities, such as race, gender, ethnicity, age, and socioeconomic class, the Ekphrastic Expression workshop will provide participants an opportunity to engage with self-representations of those frequently overlooked in historic accounts through artistic reflection. Attendees will reflect on the narratives of those who have sheltered-in-art, querying how the arts provide sensory ways of knowing and understanding the world.
In this 50-minute workshop, participants will be introduced to the web-based Viral Imaginations gallery, engaging with over 350 creative works created during the COVID-19 pandemic and exploring emergent themes. The presenters will explain the theoretical framework of narrative ethics used to guide the Viral Imaginations project, which emphasizes the writer's words over the subjective analysis applied by the reader. Presenters will engage the audience with the topic of ekphrasis, providing some examples of ekphrastic poetry created in response to images featured on the website. Participants will have the opportunity to select a work they find provocative or personally significant and develop a creative response. The session will conclude with attendees sharing their work and a discussion of both the works and the ekphrastic process. We encourage attendees to submit their works to the archive to contribute to both future research and readership.
Viral Imaginations: COVID-19 Website: https://viralimaginations.psu.edu
3C "Storytelling Across Genres" -Mark Saba (one-to-many)
Writers can tell the same story a thousand ways; these can surface as fiction, as poetry, as creative nonfiction, as memoir. I have recreated certain stories in all of these genres, and found that they require unique approaches. I will explore the process (conscious or subconscious) that allowed me find a way to retell certain stories, or scenes, in all of these genres. What details did I choose to highlight? What feeling was I trying to elicit in each of these instances? How did I imagine the reader responding differently to each? Is there one genre that is best for presenting a particular story, or can a story morph into all forms of expression to have an equally profound effect? These are relevant questions for those who write in more than one genre. I have relied on my experience of growing up in Pittsburgh, with its unique geographical and cultural characteristics, as fuel for stories I’ve retold across several genres.
3D "The Heiress of Pittsburgh" -Dr. Ken Gormley (one-to many)
New York Times bestselling author Ken Gormley, now President of Duquesne University, will talk about writing his newly released novel, “The Heiress of Pittsburgh.” Set in the working-class mill-towns in and around Pittsburgh, Gormley’s first work of fiction paints a rich picture of the people and places that made up these communities, and the values they represented that are worth preserving. Gormley’s discussion will highlight how local color and life experience can enrich both the story and theme.
3E "Mapping Your Story: An Interactive Workshop Using Cartography to Inspire Collaborative Writing" -Asa Ana & Kecia Bal (workshop)
As writers of Northern Appalachia know, the concept of place offers a deep well of inspiration. Sharing and exploring places—physical or creative—builds on that inspiration. Leaning into cartography, a historical storytelling, shape-shifting, and perception-melding tool, ab² invites you to borrow elements of cartography to collaboratively create a series of short works of fiction. During this hands-on workshop, the creative writing partners ab² will share their “Tale of Trees,” a map of micro fiction they wrote and designed for the Johnstown Flood Heritage Trail. Learn tools for using place as a powerful prompt, building creative collaboration, and shaping compelling short fiction, using ab²’s techniques and the placemaking principles of cartography as a guide. In partnership with Artists Image Resources, you will have the opportunity to screen print your own map—and leave with a new, compact world of your own creation in your hands and new tools to work with other creatives.
4A "Writing Across GEnres-Don't Let Marketing Fears Limit You" -Kevin St. Jarre (workshop)
Marketing departments of the Big 4, and even small indie publishers, will tell authors that they are easier to brand if they stick to a single genre. However, what is easier for the business folks can be limiting for the authors, and once positioned in a niche, it is tough to break out. Cultivating a brand as an author who writes literary fiction, YA, historical fiction, and thrillers, for example, is possible, and can even be a way to make each book stronger.
In this presentation, author Kevin St. Jarre will demonstrate how authors can make this work from a marketing perspective- beyond simply changing one's name- and illustrate the benefits of not becoming a one-trick pony for marketing's sake. He will also share how the commonalities and differences in the craft of writing across genres can be made to work to the author's creative benefit.
4B "Working Class Poetry of Pittsburgh" -Fred Shaw (one-to-many)
This presentation will focus on the working-class sensibilities of poets like Jan Beatty and Robert Gibb who have explored in their poetry what it means to belong to the working class through first-hand experience. Their working-class poems use Western PA as a setting, which also works as a metaphor for the blue-collar identities their speakers embody. The presentation will focus on their poetry through examples and relations to other working-class poets.
4C "The Power of Place" -Maxwell King (one-to-many)
The distinctive nature of western Pennsylvania, Appalachian Mountain character; as revealed through the work of such cultural figures as David McCullough, Fred Rogers and John Kane. This will be a pre-recorded session by Maxwell King on Mr. Rogers' book
4D "Crafting Historical Fiction: Finding the heart of the story among the facts" -Nicole Ravas (one-to-many)
How do historical fiction writers reveal the humanity of the person or event and not create “paint-by-number” characters? How do they balance the need for research with creativity? How do they get to the heart of the story? While research can inspire writing, or even lead a writer back into a piece during a difficult slump, leaning on it too heavily will stifle creativity and inevitably restrict the work. Different writers have different paths to illuminating historical figures. However, they all begin with character, in the exploration of the human condition. This craft talk will include strategies and methods for finding the heart of the story without getting lost in the facts.
4E "Dealing with Dialogue Dilemmas" -Rita Wilson (workshop)
Anyone who has taken writing classes knows the elements of a story. A story rarely exists without an Introduction, Rising Action, Climax, and so on. Equally as important in bringing a story to life is the use of dialog, yet so many writers struggle with it – its punctuation, its authenticity, its relevance. This workshop addresses several elements of dialog, including how and when to utilize it, how to honor place by honoring the dialect, how to make it sound realistic, and how to punctuate it. Through hands-on exercises, attendees will apply both grammatical rules and stylistic approaches to work through their dialog dilemmas.
Sunday, March 13th, 2022
5A "Point of View In Historical Fiction: What Happens when we let characters tell the story" -Samantha Backstrom (one-to-many)
Historical Fiction offers writers the opportunity to explore perspective in a unique way. When writing, the point of view from which one tells the story can be challenging and time-consuming to determine. How does one know what will fit best? Ultimately, it comes down to deciding whose story it is and who is best to tell that story. However, what appears to be simple questions on the surface can turn into a significant hindrance to the development of a piece. Taking a more in-depth look at the different points of view and then writing a scene in various forms can help writers eliminate what does not work. If one is lucky, the right point of view will jump off the page. Moreover, listening to the characters that emphasize the historical aspects to illuminate the story's importance helps one determine what point of view is working best, rather than re-shaping the story to fit a pre-determined idea.
5B "Writing Poetry About Death" -Valerie Bacharach (one-to-many)
Writing poetry about death has been around for centuries. We write of grief, sadness, loss, and missing the one we mourn. We write of anger at illness and even anger at those ill and dying. So many complex emotions swirl through the pen onto the page. Our dead seem to haunt us, returning in our dreams, in the smell of lilacs from a childhood garden, or in the spaghetti sauce cooked in a small kitchen. Sometimes the sound of voice compels us to turn our heads; was it our grandmother? I find that music will bring back memories, even if the song had no relation to my ghosts.
We write as a way to attempt to piece together fragments of memories, to reweave the tapestry of someone’s life. What makes this so difficult is that memories are often untrustworthy. The way I remember an incident from childhood is different than how my brother remembers it. When I write about my dead, my parents and my younger son, it is a way of attempting to discover a “new” language, a way for me to state the emotional loss and also the physical one. A way for me to say how much I miss the sound of voices or the feel of my son’s hand in mine, the way my mother’s cheek was warm and soft against my own, or how shockingly frail my father’s body felt the last time I hugged him. This presentation will discuss the ways to write about a subject that touches all of us at some point in our lives. While it focuses on writing poetry, it will also be relevant to those who write prose.
5C "Adding Color to your story" - Brian Johnson (one-to-many)
Description: Does race matter? One could imagine most Christian writers would answer “No.” It does go without saying there is a dearth of non-white characters in most Christian fiction of every genre. How do our readers of color feel regarding these worlds void of people who look like themselves or who share their experiences? Is there room for people of color in your historical fiction? In your romantic tales? Do you have the skills to craft characters where their race is a part of their humanity and not a stereotypical caricature? Creating characters of color, especially when you yourself are not of that ethnic group, is an issue most writers will grapple with at some point in their careers. While we could debate the issues of cultural appropriation that occur when white authors produce diverse characters—or how those efforts impact writers of color attempting to share their own stories—it is more beneficial to discuss what all writers can do to craft characterizations that touch upon race in a respectful way.
5D "Learning to call myself a Writer" -Debra Reynolds (one-to-many)
Learning to Call Myself a Writer: My personal story of getting the nerve to go to my very first Writer’s Conference (WCoNA 2019) and from then on, claiming myself as a Writer out loud. Encouraging others to share their work, in local writers groups, at conferences, and to look for opportunities to join groups like WCoNA and NAR and learn the business side. Learning from the “inside out” what editors like, how to present your work for publication, and working with other writers is a valuable experience I didn’t know I lacked. The presentation will finish with an appeal for anyone who would like to donate their time and volunteer with us, to contact any of the staff in person or online. Then a Q&A period if anyone is interested, or release them to the book sale!