Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Christian Writer’s Conferences: Interview with Alton Gansky

The Value of Conferences

Greetings, Pixels, and welcome to the third and final instalment of our Conference Series. This week, Alton Gansky takes time from his busy schedule to share some thoughts about conferences.

Welcome, Alton. We’re privileged to have you with us this week. Can you tell us what conferences you are involved in and when and where are they being held?

I do a number of conferences each. In fact, I’m just back from teaching at the Florida Christian Writer’s conference. The conference I’ve done most frequently and now direct is the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers conference . This year’s conference is being held May 17-21 at the Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, North Carolina. It’s one of the largest conferences of its kind and set in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Amazing scenery.

How did you get involved in these conferences?

I began doing conferences not long after my second and third novels appeared. Conference directors like to have experienced writers, editors, and agents on faculty. I was invited to several conferences to teach fiction. Ironically, the first conference I attended was one at which I taught. Things have changed since then. Today, writer conferences are the best way to learn to write and to pitch ideas. They have become networking centers where authors can pitch directly to agents and editors. I teach at these conferences because it allows me a way to give back to the writing community. I love teaching at conferences. Being surrounded by new writers invigorates my craft.

What actually happens at these conferences?

The answer varies from conference to conference. There are two types of conferences. Some focus on education and use a small faculty of experienced writers and editors. These conferences set out to teach the basics of craft. Education is the focus. The other kind of conferences do the same educational work but also try to fill the faculty with agents and editors so conferees can pitch ideas. These conferences not only draw new writers but experienced ones.

In both types of conferences, education is the foundation. Students sign up for workshops or continuing classes in their chosen field. Those who wish to write Bible studies attend classes geared to area of the industry. Those wanting to write novels chose classes that help them achieve that goal.

Large Christian conferences often have worship times and keynote speakers. For example, at our next Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference we will hear from Cec Murphey, Angela Hunt, Sally Stuart, and many others. We have about 35 people on faculty. Conferees can also sign up for appointments with the faculty to get a little one-on-one time.

Another great advantage to attending a writer’s conference is networking with other writers. A lot of friendships have been made at these events.

What level and type of writers are the conferences aimed at?

I can’t speak for every conference. BRMCWC is designed to help the novice to the writer with several years of experience. A spin off of BRMCWC is Novel Retreat, a conference for people who have written a novel and want to refine it and learn some of the more advanced writing techniques. It is important for those considering attending a conference to do their homework. Most conferences try to be helpful to every level of writer.

What can writers expect if they come along to a conference?

First they can expect to have a good time. Writers love hanging out with other writers. Second, they can expect information overload. Conferences happen over just a few days. Taking classes morning and afternoon can be overwhelming. Gather as much information as possible and sort through it as you have time. Third, they can expect inspiration. Nothing is more motivating than spending time with someone who has travelled the road you’re on. Fourth, they can expect an honest portrayal of the publishing industry, something every writer needs.

How can writers know if they’re ready to attend a conference?

They’re ready if the desire to write has become consuming. If a writer has been thinking about publishing, then it’s time to get to a conference or two. But conferences are also good for those who are just wondering about writing. What better place to be exposed the real world of the wordsmith?

Can you give us some advice on preparing to attend a conference?

Ask, “What do I want to learn?” Writing is a big universe. Some want to be freelance writers; others novelists; other devotional writers; others want to write nonfiction books. It is impossible for a student to attend everything, so be selective. If the student is uncertain what area they want to pursue, then I suggest they take workshops in several areas to help refine their desires

Do you believe conferences can play an important part in a writer’s growth?

Absolutely. Writers never stop learning or growing. The more we know about the craft, the more we realize how much there is to learn. Certain professions (architects, doctors, and lawyers) set up “practices.” Those fields have an unending need for learning. Writing is the same. When asked what I do for a living, I’m tempted to say, “I have a writing practice.”

I learn something new at every conference I attend.

Alton L. Gansky is the author of 30 novels and nonfiction books. He has been a Christie Award finalist (A Ship Possessed) and an Angel Award winner (Tarnished Image). His books have been published by Victor Books, Random House/Waterbrook Press, ChariotVictor, Zondervan, Realms, River Oak, Tyndale, Broadman & Holman, Penguin/Tarcher, and others.

As founder and principal of GANSKY COMMUNICATIONS, Alton has provided writing services to many publishers such as Broadman & Holman, Simon & Schuster/Howard, Tyndale, GRQ, Ink, and Strang, and others. Additionally, he provides business writing services to industries ranging from mining to hospitals.

Here is a list of other Christian Writer's conferences that may be of interest to you:

Mount Hermon
Antelope Valley
St Davids
Bethel College

Happy hunting!

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Read some of her work at Suite 101 , Take Root and Write and Faithwriters.

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Richard Mabry said...

Debbie, Thanks for posting this interview.
And Al, you can never know how you changed my life and helped set me on the road to writing when I sat down with you during my first ever writers' conference. I showed you some very raw writing, and you said, "Well, you know how to put the words together." I'd be happy with that as an epitaph (but not yet, please).

Yvonne said...

Your blog is always so interesting. I have something for you at my blog.