September 21, 2023

Calling All Scribes to First Chesapeake Writers’ Conference


By Barbara Geehan
Contributing Writer


Photo by Håkan Dahlström

We have all heard the critics who say the future of writing as we know it will fade in the face of the furious onslaught of tweets and the Internet. However, since the beginning of time, people have worked to capture their thoughts and experiences by writing on cave walls, papyrus, and, today, Microsoft Word; and there is no sign that this will change.

To help elicit that fine book from you, St. Mary’s College of Maryland is introducing the Chesapeake Writers’ Conference July 11-15 for all writers. To register by the May 30 deadline, or for more information, visit the web site.

For five days, writers will work with conference faculty to hone their words, characters, and themes in six genres: fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, food writing, environmental writing, or writing for children.

“We want to bring people to this magnificent spot and give them the space and resources to reflect on and hone their craft,” said Jerry Gabriel, conference director and St. Mary’s visiting assistant English professor. “Writing can be a very solitary act, so it is important to occasionally come out of your studio and connect to the larger writing world, to be part of a community.”

Gabriel, author of Drowned Boy, winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, said he was frustrated when he first started writing by his sense that writing fiction lacked coherent rules. “Unlike some other fields, there didn’t seem to be an obvious way to go about things. But what I discovered over time was that there sort of are ‘rules’they’re just unique to each of us. Discovering how best to tap into the stories you want to tell, the characters you want to draw, that’s what you get out of an experience where you’re asked to reflect on your writing and the writing of others.”

Gabriel has just finished a second book of short stories (“well, long short stories,” he says) themed on the downturn of the economy. I was cheered to hear they largely have happy endings. He and his wife, Karen Anderson, St. Mary’s assistant English professor, have another happy ending to plan for: They are expecting twins in August.

Everyone works out their own process. Prolific mystery writer Martha Grimes told The Washington Post recently that she never outlines the book before she starts writing. She develops the plot as she goes along.” I don’t know the end until I get there,” she told the Post. Others plan each step minutely.

Some write longhand on legal pads; some write at their computers only at night.

But, at some point, we all need feedback from experts, and ultimately, the Reader. Gabriel said the conference gives writers this chance. They will be able to study how to put something together, and how to take it apart, how to plot out a book, and learn more about form and content, largely through critiques.

“An experience like this is intense and rich, like gulping down a bunch of chocolate milk,” he said. “There’s so much to take in over the days of the conference. After conferences I have attended, I’ve found myself processing what I experienced for months.”

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