It’s Tuesday, October 23, and in three days I’ll be on a plane headed south to Pasadena, California for the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference, which is happening this weekend, October 26-28, 2018. I’ve got two sessions on the schedule this year and my PowerPoints are done, my airline ticket is locked in, and the hotel has confirmed my reservation. I even pre-paid for a shuttle from the airport. I know what book I’m bringing with me to read on the plane and in the downtime that always happens on any business trip. (For the record, it’s Dune: House Atreides by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.) I’m ready! I’m excited to speak there, but I might even be a bit more excited to be attending the conference.

I’ve been working in one capacity or another in the publishing business since 1986—that’s a long time—and I make a pretty swell living dispensing wisdom on all things writing, but there is no way to perfect this, there’s no way to know everything. I certainly make no such claim. I’m pretty much constantly reading about writing: books, blogs, articles, scholarly papers… whatever I can get my mitts on. So when I’m invited to an event like this, I try my best to soak up as much wisdom from the other speakers and from everyone attending through their questions, side conversations, meet-and-greets, and whatnot. Conferences like this one are “wisdom rich environments” that recharge my batteries better than anything else—any book or blog post or anything I write myself.

Check out the schedule here. I don’t get in until Friday afternoon so unfortunately I’m going to miss pretty much all of the Friday programming, but I should get there in time for Robert Crais’s opening keynote. Still, I plan on a full day Saturday starting with:

The Secret of Mission-Critical Storytelling

Larry Brooks

Sooner or later in the process of taking a story from idea to finished draft, the author must commit to something. Advanced authors understand that the larger context of that commitment is really the sum of numerous and unique sub-sets of the narrative, each of which presents discreet sets of criteria for character and drama. And thus we are presented with unique blocks of narrative that allow writers to exist within the big picture and the microcosm of their scenes at the same time, flourishing with artistic freedom as they seek to optimize each subset. This workshop will make this advanced perspective accessible to all writers willing to embrace the mission-driven criteria that make our stories work, one scene and one narrative block at a time.

Then, at 10:15, I’m torn between:

Enrich Your Characters with Real-Life Experiences

Rachel Howzell Hall

Just because you’re writing a mystery series doesn’t mean that your characters must stay the same. Learn how to look for the interesting—in setting, voice, dialogue, in your own life and the lives of others to keep your characters dynamic and the reader turning the page.


The Changing Face of Publishing: What All Authors Need to Know

April Eberhardt

In this illuminating session, literary change agent and publishing consultant April Eberhardt will lead a candid discussion of the pros and cons of the full range of publishing options available to authors today. In addition to traditional and self-publishing, models such as hybrid, partner, cooperative and craft publishing are increasingly attractive to many authors. We’ll discuss the personal, practical and financial implications of each and how to choose the best publishing path for you.

Then I’ll make another “game time decision” between:

Enrich Your Writing with Vivid Imagery

Jordan Rosenfeld

Start spicing up dull, lagging scenes in your novel. In this session you’ll learn how to transform serviceable sentences with arresting prose and sensory images that convey emotion and theme with subtlety. You’ll learn to mine the depths of your characters, and examine contemporary examples as you tease apart metaphor and simile. Writers will come away from this workshop with a visceral, clear understanding of “show, don’t tell.”


Delving in the Past

Erika Mailman

Research can be fascinating, but can also lead to distraction and becoming overwhelmed by details. In this workshop, historical novelist Erika Mailman talks about how to sort the wheat from the chaff and create an outline that focuses on a strong story, augmented by the historical background. Come prepared to wrestle an idea into submission and build a loose outline for a novel.

…because I’m still toying with that historical novel idea.

After that… any recommendations for a good quick lunch in Pasadena?

Back from lunch at 1:45, something tells me I would benefit most from:

Not Just Your Hero Needs a Plan

Greta Heinemann

Not just your hero needs clear goals and plans to propel their story forward. Without structure you, the writer, will get lost on your creative journey. This session will discuss tools from Greta’s upcoming Writer’s Wright Journal which help writers make their creative passion a priority in their every day life. Following simple steps writers will outline their own inspiring… not intimidating… career plan and leave the session with tools to hold themselves accountable as they take next steps in their focused, inspired and always productive writing journey.

At 3:00 I’m thinking…

The 7 Elements of a Viable Story Idea

Erik Bork

Multiple Emmy and Golden Globe-Winning screenwriter and producer Erik Bork (HBO’s Band of Brothers) will present the keys to a viable and marketable story idea in any genre and medium, based on the principles in his new book The Idea. Every story idea at its essence is about a problem that needs solved, and Mr. Bork uses the acronym PROBLEM for his 7 Elements: Punishing, Relatable, Original, Believable, Life-Altering, Entertaining and Meaningful. He will highlight the importance and provide specifics on each element, and discuss why writers should focus more on the concept development process than they typically do, ideally vetting their ideas until they have one that professionals would deem “worth writing.”

Then, at 4:15, I’m up with:

Writing Scary

Best-selling author and veteran editor Philip Athans, author of Writing Monsters (Writer’s Digest Books, 2014) and The Guide to Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction (Adams Media 2010), gets into some hands-on techniques for using wordplay to build suspense, evoke fear, and thrill your readers with a satisfyingly good scare. We’ll look at how people read and how to use that to the best effect. Recommended for authors in any genre that depends on at least the occasional scare: horror, thriller, mystery, science fiction, and fantasy.

Then the central keynote with Curtis Sittenfeld at 5:30 and I’ll end the day by actually showing up to the Halloween Themed Reception and Book Signing even though the older I get the less I like parties (and I never really liked parties). But going to a conference is also about getting out of your bubble and out of your head, and like I said, I’m going there to learn, too, and not just from the formal seminars.

Finally, a short day on Sunday with Nicola Yoon’s closing keynote followed by my second seminar at 10:30:

Act of Villainy: Breathing Life Into Your Protagonist

Focusing on the Three Ms of writing compelling characters (Motivation, Motivation, and Motivation), best-selling author and veteran editor Philip Athans takes authors of all genres beyond the mustache-twirling, black hat-wearing “villain” to dig deeper into why people do bad things—and power, money, or revenge are not deep enough.

After that I’ll have a few hours to kill before I have to get back to the airport and thanks to Google Maps I’ve already spotted a groovy-looking bookstore in the neighborhood.

I know it’s probably impossible for anyone who doesn’t live in the greater Los Angeles area to suddenly decide, “Screw it, I’m going!” with this whopping two or three days’ notice, but then if you are in LA already or have immediate access to a private jet, here’s a discount code, at least for the former group:

But I hope you’ll at least take a look at the web site, the schedule and speakers list, read up on the various sessions—then put a writer’s conference on your to do list for 2019.

You don’t have to fly to LA or New York (site of the bigger Writer’s Digest event—and lots of others). There are at least half a dozen annual conferences here in the Seattle area and I’m sure this is true of any and every major city in America. Just Google it, for goodness’ sake: “writers conference [your city]” and you’ll get something, and probably something really amazing.

Then, sign up!

And… go!

You will not be sorry. I never have been.


—Philip Athans


P.S. Expect a full report next week!


Follow me on Twitter @PhilAthans

Link up with me on LinkedIn

Friend me on GoodReads

Find me at PublishersMarketplace

Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
This entry was posted in authors helping authors, authors to writers, best fantasy blogs, best genre fiction blogs, best horror blogs, best science fiction blogs, best websites for authors, best websites for writers, Books, characters, conventions, fiction writing blog, fiction writing websites, help for writers, helping writers become authors, how to write fantasy, how to write fiction, how to write horror, how to write science fiction, intellectual property development, Publishing Business, SF and Fantasy Authors, Story Structure, transmedia, websites for authors, websites for writers, writers to authors, Writing, writing advice, writing fantasy, writing horror, writing science fiction, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. DoveLyn says:

    This sounds like an amazing conference, and a great line up of speakers. Maybe someday I’ll be able to attend.

  2. Wow what a great lineup!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s