Tag Archives: Conference

HippoCamp Happy – Reflections On My First Creative Nonfiction Writing Conference

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

A few months ago, my friend and I came up with what we thought is a brilliant title for a children’s book: I Did My Best – I Made A Friend.

In hindsight, maybe it’s not as brilliant as I originally thought. But, this idea does perfectly sum up my experience at HippoCamp 18, the creative nonfiction writing conference I attended last week in Lancaster, PA.

HippoCamp started four years ago as the first writing conference devoted solely to the craft and publishing of creative nonfiction. For those outside the publishing world, sometimes people think creative nonfiction means taking liberties with true stories to create more drama and suspense.

Creative nonfiction simply means the use of literary techniques to tell a nonfiction story. Remember how I read five books on happiness last year?

All of the above are examples of creative nonfiction, as are memoirs, essays, and blogs. So, right up my alley!

I was also hoping to learn a few more writing skills to improve my craft and let me tell you – HippoCamp 18 delivered.

Joey Garcia wowed me with her Pitch Yourself as a Guest on TV News or Radio Shows presentation. She also had us practice coming up with a pitch.  Here’s what I came up with:

Not sure you’re ready to take the next step with your significant other? Meet our next guest who eloped with her husband three weeks after they met and hear what she has to say about the importance of values in relationships.

Of course, being the Hermione Granger that I am, I volunteered to read mine first.


It turns out I misunderstood the concept of pitching, and what I wrote above would be something a news anchor would say. Joey encouraged me to break it down to the actual pitch, which would be one sentence.

Here’s my second try:

I eloped with a stranger three weeks after we met.

This time, I got it right and it felt doubly good because I always enjoy talking about my incredibly handsome husband.

Our Wedding, February 12th, 2016, Nashville Courthouse

As a fun twist, the woman who went after me, B. Lynn Goodwin, pitched her story as, “it’s never too late,” which referred to meeting her husband. If you’re interested, you can read more about her story Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 here.

I also attended a hilarious presentation, The Humour Makeover: How to Take Your Existing Work and Make It Funny by Amy Fish, author of The Art of Complaining Effectively, and Lara Lillibridge, author of Girlish. They presented six different strategies on how to amp up the humor in your writing.

As I’ve been putting a Writers Digest humor course in my virtual shopping cart every time I get an email advertising it, then ultimately deciding no because of the price tag, I was thoroughly delighted by their offering. I hope they offer a workshop next year.

I also learned some useful presentation skills during Amy Eaton’s Getting Your Words Into the Air session. What I liked most about Amy’s presentation is that she had us stand up and go through a bunch of vocal and space exercises.

“Take up space. You belong here,” she said at one point. I straightened my back by at least two inches after that.

Her presentation ended up being rather timely for me, as I was scheduled to present the next day at the conference. I joined four other writers for the Flash Sessions and we each had 8-9 minutes to give a lightning round talk.

Unfortunately, Margaret Montet couldn’t attend because of a family emergency.

I’ve presented at conferences before, but they were always as an academic,and usually about tobacco prevention or teaching in the social sciences. This presentation was my first time as a writer speaking about my writing process.

My inner Hermione had me practicing well in advance and multiple times, too. I think I practiced at least 10 times on my own, and Heath listened three times. He also helped me get the timing of my slides just right since every slide featured an animated GIF like this one and I wanted people to laugh, but not be distracted.

I still felt nervous, despite all my practicing, and Sunday morning I found myself getting up in the middle of two different presentations to ….

Well, I’ll just leave it to your imagination what I was doing because I’m pretty sure my mom is reading this and she is of the old school mentality to “suffer in silence.”

The whole reason I ended up presenting at HippoCamp 18 in the first place is back when they had their call for submissions, I had been devouring self-help material while procrastinating (one of the talking points in my presentation). I came across the idea to, “do one brave thing every day,” and so submitting a proposal as a presenter fell into the brave category for me.

So there I was standing in front of a room of fellow writers on Sunday morning. The big conference room. I had imagined one of the tinier spaces. I gave myself a pep talk — I could do this.

And I did!


I responded to Dave later that getting positive feedback through animal GIFs is my new metric for achievement.

My favorite part of the weekend, however, was not the chance to present. It was meeting so many new writers and hearing where they are in their writing journeys.

I connected with one woman, in particular, the first night of the conference. It was during the mashed potato martini hour.

Sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, sour cream, shredded cheese, and fried onions

This woman shared something personal with me. I was so moved by what she said that when I was walking around Lancaster’s Central Market the next morning and felt strangely compelled to buy a single sunflower, I realized in my walk back to the conference center that she was the reason. I found her in the breakfast room and gave the flower to her.

We then sat together for breakfast, both Saturday and Sunday, as well as lunch on Sunday. We also ended the conference together sitting next to each other during the closing remarks and door prizes. This time turned out to be one of my favorite conference moments of all-time.

The first door prize was awarded to the person who registered first for the conference. The registration site went live at 12:00am on February 1st and the first registration came in at 12:08am. My new friend leaned over and whispered, “I think it was me.” Sure enough, it was!

This conference was everything I could have hoped for and more. I did my best and I made a friend. How lucky am I?

I’m already looking forward to HippoCamp 19, which will be August 23rd – 25th, again in downtown Lancaster. In the meantime, thank you to Donna Talarico, conference organizer and Founder of Hippocampus Magazine and Books, all the volunteers, attendees, and presenters.

Also, thank you to the Marriott for your delicious food and excellent service. The treats were so scrumptious, I snuck out two whoopie pies to bring home to Heath.

Memoir Monday, June 12th, 2017

Oddly Refreshing

This past Saturday I was delighted to attend the Children’s Writers of the Hudson Valley June conference.  This is the third writing conference I’ve attended which focuses exclusively on children’s writing.  It was also the smallest writing conference I’ve yet to attend (my count is now at six; I forgot I attended Fall Philly Fest from the Eastern PA Chapter of the SCBWI in a previous conference count that I mentioned on my blog) and I have to say I learned A LOT.

One of the best parts of a small conference is that you don’t have too many options to choose from.  This has been a problem for me not just in writing conferences, but when I attended academic conferences in my past life as a professor.  I would always scour the conference schedule, circling the sessions that looked most intriguing to me, having to weigh options and presenters and then make some tough choices.

For this conference, there were only two options for the morning session: focus on middle grade novels or focus on picture books.  Then, everyone came together for an afternoon session on revising work masterfully presented in a way that blew my mind.  I suppose there is nothing truly earth shattering in learning that the picture book and the novel can both be revised using the same methods, but in my mind I had the two genres as incompatible in how story is presented and thus, would require different processes for the all-important revisions.

I consider it to be a valuable use of my time to learn not just one new process of writing, but several, and so I am itching to review my notes and see what I can do to some of my manuscripts in terms of improving them.

The day ended with another joint session; this time the day’s presenters came together on a panel and reviewed the first 100 words of manuscripts submitted by conference participants.  I feel a tad guilty that I included four different manuscripts of mine (two picture-book and two middle-grade) because I am so eager for feedback, but not guilty enough not to have only submitted one manuscript.

I did rationalize to myself that because I didn’t find out about the conference until a few weeks before and I missed the deadline to schedule one-on-one critiques, I should be allowed to submit more than one first 100 words.  I also didn’t keep it a secret from the conference hosts that I turned in four, so I guess in the end it was okay.

Well, the action was okay; the process brutal.  Two of my first 100 words got selected and holy cow, it is hard to sit there with a straight face while four strangers perform what one of them called a “parlor game” in highlighting the weaknesses of your work.

To be fair, one of the other panelists gently explained that this process was not to focus on what people were doing well because that wouldn’t necessarily improve the weaker parts of their writing.  The panelist also went on to say they probably wouldn’t be so harsh if they were to spend more time with more words of the manuscript.

The first 100 words of my picture book got torn to shreds. The first 100 words of my middle grade book first got accolades for an intriguing first paragraph, then fell completely flat upon reading of the second paragraph.  It was a truly a humbling experience and I’m pretty sure no one could actually hear the pounding of my heart as they read and critiqued my writing.

The strange thing, though, is that after getting over the initial emotional response, I am nothing but grateful for the opportunity to hear from four different industry professionals on what can be objectively improved with my work.  There was a time in my not so distant past that I might have been thoroughly demoralized, perhaps maybe even have cried, and probably would have said to myself that these people don’t know what they’re talking about and my work is brilliant.

I find it oddly refreshing to discover I have reached this point where I do believe industry professionals are experts in their field and not all my work is brilliant.  This revelation has been in progress for a while as a few weeks ago, I opted not to submit two of my manuscripts to a contest because I truly didn’t believe they were my best work.  In re-reading and revising them, I still felt like some spark was missing and I feel rather validated that my own professional judgement is becoming less biased as I become more familiar with the revision process.

That’s not to say I didn’t feel any sort of emotional wound or negative gut reaction to hearing the comments from the panelists.  Hearing criticism/rejection is one of the hardest things we ever have to do in life and I can’t imagine it ever gets easier over time.  But it is now easier for me to move on and I feel quite liberated by this knowledge.  We’ll see how it goes once I receive feedback from the editor I’m in the process of hiring for one of my manuscripts.  At the very least, it will be a good measure to see how far I’ve really come.