"What is the value of your words this year?" That's one of the driving themes behind this year's Willamette Writers Conference. The annual event is celebrating its 48th year with a three-day extravaganza from Aug. 4 to 6 at the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel.
The conference features classes on the craft and business of writing — mixers where aspiring authors can talk shop with established professionals and opportunities to meet one-on-one with agents who might represent an author's work. Those who attend the conference will also have a chance to get individual critiques of their work or advice about their author's website and publicity efforts.
"People get three things out of it: professional development in the form of classes, furthering our careers by making contact with people who can help, and — most important — we meet and befriend people who are with us in what is generally a very lonely profession," said conference chairman Jason Brick, who lives in Hillsboro. "When imaginative people get together, we all geek out about what we're writing, what we wish we were writing, and the best stuff we read."
Brick has been involved in the conference since 2012, and this will be his second year of being involved in running it. This year's literary spectacle predicts that nearly 700 attendees will show up, including just shy of 100 speakers, agents, editors and other professionals.
Some new programs have also been added this year. A Willamette Writers After Dark session will run on the first night — experts will discuss adult topics like writing about sex or mental illness.
"I am presenting a class on Friday night called, 'Writing Sex: From Arousal to Zipper' — a workshop on how to write the best sex possible, no matter the heat level," said the Hillsboro-based Linda Mercury. "The class discusses everything from the language a writer might use to how to keep the love scene integrated with the plot."
Mercury said her life's work is to share what she knows about love, history and passion with as many people as she possibly can. Sometimes, her work looks like sexy paranormal romance novels. Other times, it's blog posts on history, feminism and intercultural understanding. She has authored the Blood Wings series, which includes "Dracula's Secret," "Dracula's Desire" and "Dracula Unleashed."
"Lots of people scoff at sexuality in literature. It is the stuff of life, quite literally, and should at least be acknowledged during the writer's process," she said. "I'm going to be discussing how to make writing intimacy vibrant, emotional and at the right heat level for your audience."
Linda Needham is an award-winning, USA Today-bestselling author of 10 historical romance novels, seven full-length musicals and two stage plays.
"Way back in third grade, I realized that I could put my own words together and make up my own sentences — magic!" said Needham. "I wrote my first short story in fifth grade; in sixth grade I wrote, directed and starred in my first stage play for my entire school.
"I'm not saying these works were good, but they were mine and started me on my journey to publication."
At the Willamette Writers Conference, Needham, also of Hillsboro, will present a hands-on workshop in which participants will put their great idea for a novel through its paces, from the germ of the story idea to the blockbuster ending. She's also participating in the On the Spot Critiques program, in which writers will have an opportunity to talk with me about their pages, project or any other advice that might help move them forward in their career.
"I've attended the Willamette Writers Conference many times before, mostly as a speaker but occasionally just to refill my creative well in the company of other writers," she said. It's one of the largest and most diverse regional conferences in the country, attracting writers of all levels of expertise, from all over the world, and from every possible category of writing."
For those feeling inspired, there's still time to register. For more information on the conference, visit www.willamettewriters.org.