June 22*-24, 2017(*Preconference events on June 22)
2016 Program Overview | Whatcom Community College
Click here for a printable pdf of the 2016 conference schedule!

The Chuckanut Writers Conference Pre-Conference events start on Thursday at 1:00 pm, with three Master Classes featuring faculty members Sara Donati, Elaina Ellis, and Robert Michael Pyle. The Chuckanut Radio Hour starts at 6:30 pm.

Conference check-in opens Friday at 9:00 AM. The conference begins at 10 AM with featured speakers and multiple breakout craft sessions, extending into an early evening of a reception with readings and signings by faculty author presenters. The program continues Saturday, June 25, with a full day of author sessions, panels, and an additional book signing. The conference concludes Saturday evening with concurrent open mics for conference attendees at venues in Bellingham’s historic Fairhaven district.

Plan to arrive by 9:30 AM (or earlier) to park, check in, receive conference materials, and proceed to Heiner Theatre for the Welcome/Opening Address beginning promptly at 10 AM.

Village Books Conference Bookstore will be open throughout the conference. As co-presenter of the Chuckanut Writers Conference, Village Books will be the exclusive on-site bookseller for the conference and will have titles by the faculty authors available for purchase. Village Books is a community-based, independent bookstore located in the historic Fairhaven district of Bellingham, where it has celebrated building community one book at a time since 1980.

Agent Pitch Sessions and Marketing Consultations will be scheduled concurrently with other sessions throughout the conference. Pre-registration for pitch sessions is required. There will be no sign-ups during the conference.

Thursday | June 22, 2017
1:00 – 4:00 and 1:00 – 5:00 | Pre-Conference Master Classes

Master Class with Sara Donati
1:00-4:00 pm

Ventriloquism on the Page

In the late eighteenth century a performer appearing on a London stage advertised his act as a curious discussion between himself and Little Tommy, an invisible friend.  The performer was Joseph Askins, who was to become one of the earliest popular stage ventriloquists. Askins didn’t have a puppet called Tommy sitting on his knee. Instead he convinced his audience that he was having a conversation with a personality separate and distinct from his own, sitting just out of sight. He did this by throwing his voice.

In creating characters, the writer must throw her voice.  If she does her job well enough the reader suspends disbelief and accepts the many voices on the page as distinct beings separate from each other and the author herself.  In this master class for intermediate to advanced writers, we will look at what goes into our kind of ventriloquism. Before you can throw a character’s voice, you have to be able to hear the character, and characters are not always forthcoming. We’ll be considering a couple ways to make reluctant or shy characters speak up, and we’ll experiment with throwing them.


Master Class with Elaina Ellis
1:00-5:00 pm

The Wilderness of Revision

Because many poets write from a wild impulse—unacademic, personal, strange, spiritual, unbracketed—“finishing” a poem can feel paradoxical. How can a composition process characterized by vulnerability and authenticity lend itself to the self-conscious process of revision? In this class, rather than approaching revision as antithetical to the creative impulse, we’ll look for opportunities to bring the wilderness of our intuitions into the twin processes of writing and editing.

We will do three things together:

1. Engage in generative exercises that encourage spontaneity and authenticity

2. Share our writing and receive feedback

3. Embark on experiments in revision that rely on intuition and bravery


Master Class with Robert Michael Pyle
1:00-5:00 pm

Creative Non-Fiction: Doing Somersaults on the High Ridge

By my definition, “creative non-fiction” roughly equates with essay, belles lettres, personal history, or (often) memoir. It’s great attempt (French, essai), is to convey actual facts, conditions, and experiences as they occurred, but as perceived through the personal lens of the writer. In this way, essays walk a broad border between poetry and journalism. Essayists get to employ opinion, impression, and subjective response–all the fun of the poet–yet they are responsible for the reliability of fact when the context suggests that’s what they’re after–all the objective burden of the journalist. If it sounds as if they get to have their cake and eat it too, it’s true–the great challenge being to let the reader know when the poet is leading this dance, and when the reporter. Vladimir Nabokov, who did it all (science, poetry, fiction, memoir) asked, “Does there not exist a high ridge, where the mountainside of scientific knowledge meets the opposite slope of artistic imagination?” This is the territory we will explore, up in the heady atmosphere where artistic truth and scientific truth meet and mingle over the actual stuff of the physical world–”the individuating details” that Nabokov romanced in all his writing. We’ll discover how this kind of writing can make us whole people, as both writers and readers. In this master class for intermediate to advanced writers, we will climb high and dive deep into the language of real lives (human and otherwise), to find out why non-fiction can be such fun to commit, and so compelling to read.


Class size is limited, so be sure to register early!

6:30 – 9:00 | Pre-Conference Event: The Chuckanut Radio Hour

The Chuckanut Radio Hour, a recipient of Bellingham’s prestigious Mayor’s Arts Award, will host a special Chuckanut Writers Conference focused episode of its signature radio variety show at Whatcom Community College’s Heiner Theater.  Doors open and music begins at 6:30 p.m.  The show starts at 7:00 sharp! This not-to-be-missed pre-conference event is included with your conference registration, but does require you to register by June 20 for guaranteed seating. Tickets will also be available to the public for $5 through Village Books and at the event, space permitting. We anticipate a full house for this Radio Hour, so pre-registration is strongly encouraged! More details to come!

Friday | June 22, 2017
9:00 – 10:00 | Check-In Syre Center Lobby
9:15 – 9:45 | Optional Info Session: Getting the Most Out of Your Conference

Join Conference Planner Paul Hanson in an optional info session on how to get the most out of your conference!

10:00 – 11:00 | Conference Welcome and Opening Address

Conference Welcome | Emcee, Bob Winters


Opening Address | Claire Dederer

The Necessary Ingredients: Intimacy and Risk

11:15 – 12:15 | Breakout Session 1

Agent and Marketing Panel Discussion and Q&A

Featuring: Alice Acheson, Andy Ross, and Elizabeth Wales
Moderator: Laurel Leigh


Poetry, Race and the Color Line | Roberto Ascalon

The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.
-W.E.B. Du Bois

From Ferguson to Bellingham race is in the headlines. Poetry that addresses race has the power to reveal deep beauty, sublime consciousness and terrifying truths. How do we honor the differences that divide us… even when that distance sometimes appears beyond measure? In this workshop we will explore the rich tension that exists once the poet invokes the word “race” and put some skin in the game by writing our own poems that break the color line.


Put the Reader in the Room: How to Use Well-Chosen Details to Bring a Scene Alive | Bruce Barcott

Sometimes the difference between a good scene and a great scene can be a few finely chosen details. It can be a gesture, or an object, or a sensory perception. How do you find them, note them, and know which to include (and which to cut)? This session will help fiction, nonfiction, and memoir writers add the little touches to a scene that can make all the difference in the reader’s mind.


How to Write for a Younger Audience | Royce Buckingham

Middle Grade and YA literature have their own quirks. This breakout session will explore the conflict, content, and technique issues unique to children’s literature. Royce Buckingham is an award winning and bestselling author of ten novels, including middle grade, young adult, and a grown-up book. In this session, Royce will help aspiring children’s writers execute their ideas in a child-friendly way.

Try Essays | David Laskin

In high school and college we were all taught that essay comes from the French word to try – and then we were forced to try writing essays on all manner of unspeakably dull topics.  Which may explain why essays have something of a bad rap.  I would argue that some of the best journalism, travel writing, memoir writing, even book reviews are essays in disguise. But the disguise is key.  Tell an editor you want to write an essay and you’ll be steered unceremoniously to a little magazine that pays nothing – or an impossible to get slot at one of the glossies; pitch an editor with a reported story, travel piece or profile and then turn in an essay and you may be amazed at the praise heaped on you.  I’ll use some recent essays I have published as well as examples by writers I admire to illustrate how an essay can be folded inside a more salable piece of journalism.

12:15 – 1:30 | Lunch

Pre-ordered box lunches available for pick-up in Syre Auditorium. Other lunch options include the Goat Mountain Pizza truck, the Dockside Café in Syre Center or nearby eateries—visit the concierge desk for recommendations.

1:30-2:15 | Writers Studio Plenary Session

My Secret Weapons: Or, How to Cheat the Devil | Erik Larson

Framed within a rambling jaunt through my own tortuous and checkered writing career, I’ll talk about the things that have helped me get through the long, dark moments of fear and self-doubt that plague (and probably should plague) every writer, at some point in his or her life. I’ll include cosmic strategies, and down and dirty practical techniques. For example, I’ll reveal the most powerful maxim a writer can adopt: If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. I’ll also pass along my trick for guaranteeing that when you get up in the morning to write, you will instantly be productive. I’ll also describe the Darkest Hour Syndrome, my term for that strange phenomenon that causes good things to happen just at the point where we’re about to give up—provided, of course, we don’t give up.

2:30 – 4:00 | Breakout Session 2

Tell Me Who You Are: From Photo to Backstory | Sara Donati

Some writers will tell you that everything begins with character. If you have built strong characters, this theory goes, you can set them free to interact on the page and a story will construct itself.  Except readers want story. It’s the most important thing, the reason they pick up the book to start with. If you don’t have a story to tell, you’ll lose that reader very quickly.  Character and story are equally important, I would claim, and you can’t develop one without the other. We’ll start with a series of photographs I bring with me, and we’ll talk about what we see in a given face. In short writing periods, we’ll construct very short backstories for each of the faces, and then ask volunteers to share what they’ve come up with. Some exciting and unexpected characterizations have come out of this exercise, often times in ways that surprise the writer him or herself. We’ll have time for five or six backstory writing prompts, but you will go away with a dozen new characters in your head.



Natal Streams: What Salmon Have to Teach us About Connecting to the “Home” of our Most Authentic Writing Selves | Stephanie Kallos

As Northwesterners, we hear a lot about that mysterious, magical, and miraculous process by which salmon return to their homes: imprintation. My strong belief is that all of us have been imprinted many times in our lives by specific events that shaped and altered us in profound ways – ways that define us as individuals, and which provide a rich, unending “compost” which can nurture and sustain us throughout our writing lives. This imprintation as I define it is not the same as memory. Through a series of timed and guided in-class writings, we’ll define what I mean by this concept; specifically, we’ll separate general memories from imprinting memories. We’ll also go on the hunt for moments of imprintation in unlikely places. Finally, in unearthing these imprinting experiences, we’ll reacquaint ourselves with the taproots that make us unique – and from which we can derive our richest and deepest work as writers.



Interview Anyone Anywhere with These Tips | Bharti Kirchner

First, Bharti Kirchner will discuss why and how she interviews both experts and lay people as part of her fiction/nonfiction research. This will include tips on locating interview subjects and techniques to aid in the interview process. In fiction, this might entail interviewing someone with a similar profession as your protagonist. What works the best, by phone, face-to-face, online? You’ll have a chance to practice these techniques in class.



Flash Fiction: the Annihilating Form   | Samuel Ligon

Robert Kelly refers to short-short fiction as “the insidious, sudden, alarming, stabbing, tantalizing, annihilating form.” Joyce Carol Oates writes that “very short fictions are nearly always experimental, reminiscent of Frost’s definition of a poem—a structure of words that consumes itself as it unfolds.” Flash fiction tends to rely on surprise, a hard turn at the end. It’s often elliptical or fragmented, shaped by tone and shadow. In this session, we’ll explore compression and limitation, evocation and implication, formal constraint and what might arise from line pressure and narrative restriction.

To the Letter: Writing Poems as Epistles   | Nancy Pagh

Vivian Gornick tells us that “To write a letter is to be alone with my thoughts in the conjured presence of another person. I keep myself imaginative company.”  In this session we will explore the occasions for and approaches to the letter, then play with the potential to morph these rhetorical containers (brief as a “post secret” post card, expansive as a correspondence lasting years) into imagined epistles: “letter-shaped poems.”


4:00 – 7:30 | Reception, Faculty Reading, and Book Signing

A highlight of the conference!

Be sure to join us for a chance to mingle and converse with authors and fellow attendees, and take advantage of the opportunity to get your books signed. And of course, you won’t want to miss the truly riveting and inspiring readings of our incredible faculty! Appetizers and a no-host bar with beer and wine will be provided.

Saturday | June 24, 2017
9:00 – 9:45 | Early Morning Sessions

Coffee Talk | Nancy Lou Canyon

Bring your coffee, journal, and questions: what can you expect of creative process, work patterns, editing opportunities, readings, publishing and more. Enjoy this early morning time together candidly discussing the writing life.


Writers’ Groups: Forming and Joining | Ben Frerichs

Writers groups provide a valuable ‘first read’ for writers of every level; they are a source of support, a way to access resources and part social network for a solitary craft. This session explores considerations and issues when selecting or forming a writers group.


The Tao of Writing Daily | Susan Colleen Browne

In this early morning session, we’ll explore and share simple, go-with-the-flow ways to start and maintain a regular writing practice.”

9:45-10:00 | Announcements

Emcee, Bob Winters


10:15 – 11:15 | Concurrent Author Panels

Germ to Germination: A Conversation on Inspiration and Execution

Faculty: Claire Dederer, Sara Donati, Erik Larson, and Robert Michael Pyle
Moderator: Chuck Robinson


How to Keep Them Hooked: A Conversation on Being Compulsively Readable 

Faculty: Bruce Barcott, Roby Blecker, Royce Buckingham, and Bharti Kirchner
Moderator: Nan Macy


Hitting the Right Note: A Conversation on Creating Your Character’s Voice 

Faculty: David Laskin, Sam Ligon, and Stephanie Kallos
Moderator: Paul Hanson


Can Poetry Save the World? A Conversation on Poetry as a Public Service 

Faculty: Roberto Ascalon, Elizabeth Austen, Elaina Ellis, and Nancy Pagh
Moderator: Anna Wolff



11:30-12:15 | Writers Studio Plenary Session

An Author’s Bill of Rights | Stephanie Kallos

Storytelling is a practice of compassion. It is not only an author’s right but an obligation to walk in the shoes of others. One earns the right to tell a story outside one’s personal experience (be it one involving a Holocaust survivor, a Nazi, the parent of a child with low-functioning autism, someone of a different sexual orientation or race, etc.) by using imagination to connect – with integrity, as authentically and deeply as possible – to those whose stories one seeks to tell.

12:15-1:30 | Lunch

Pre-ordered box lunches available for pick up in the Syre Auditorium. Other lunch options include Papous Gyros food truck, the Dockside Café in Syre Center or nearby eateries—visit the concierge desk for recommendations.

1:30 – 2:30 | Breakout Session 4

Beyond the Page: Performing Your Work Aloud | Elizabeth Austen

What does it take to transform the words on the page into an engaging, authentic and memorable performance? Commitment, rehearsal and humility. In this lecture demonstration we’ll grapple with questions of aesthetics, approaches and practical considerations. The goal is to give you tools to develop a performance style that suits you and your work.


What’s with All These Arcs? | Roby Blecker

Almost every fiction writing class you take deals with the purpose and construction of arcs. You hear many writing teachers talking about story arcs, character arcs, narrative arcs, scene arcs, chapter arcs, plot arcs . . . You hear repeatedly about the importance of arcs. But how do you know when you’re building one? And what if you never really learned to think about characters or stories in terms of “arc”? Sometimes trying to add an arc in what you think is an arcless chapter or scene feels like making artificial what should be instinctive. In this session, you’ll have an opportunity to explore what arcs accomplish, how they interact, why they’re necessary, and ways to integrate them naturally into your writing process.


How to Write a Killer Nonfiction Book Proposal | Erik Larson

The world of nonfiction books works differently than that of fiction. You need a formal proposal to persuade agents and editors alike that your idea could indeed make a book and that you can execute it well. This gives them the confidence they need in order to invest money and time in your project, but it also provides you with a road map for researching and writing your book once the deal is signed and terror strikes. I’ll present a method for creating just such a proposal, and provide ways of evaluating ideas for viability and marketability. Participants should come prepared to talk about their darlings.


The Slush Pile Derby: Meaning Before Form | Andy Ross

I frequently find that I can tell on the first page of a submission, sometimes on the first paragraph, if the author has the kind of talent that I am looking for. In this class, I will present first paragraphs of submissions from my slush pile (unsolicited queries). Some of them I rejected. Some of them I chose to represent. And some of those were published. We will discuss each of the selections and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. I’ll ask the participants to put themselves in the role of  agents and decide whether they would like to see more of the material or pass on it. It’s a lot of fun and a good way to understand what makes good writing good.



2:45 – 3:45 | Breakout Session 5

Everything Has Changed; Nothing Is New | Alice Acheson

Writers need to create, edit and promote as they have done for centuries.  At the same time, they must navigate the changes brought on by technology to break through the noise of our culture.  Learn how to do the former and update it for today’s industry.


Have No Care For Your Dignity: The Value of Humiliation in the Memoir | Claire Dederer

How do you write a memoir that is an act of generosity toward the reader? One of the ways is to reveal the self in all its ridiculous inadequacy. In this workshop we’ll talk about how to write the difficult, the undignified, the humiliating moments in your life—not as a form of cheap self-deprecation, but as an act of generosity to and connection with the reader.


What is a Poetry Book, Anyway? | Elaina Ellis

A creative exploration for those who wish to assemble a poetry manuscript. This session posits that a good poetry collection is more than just a collection of good poems. We will approach questions of order, length, structure, tone, and audience to get a sense of the possibilities. I’ll bring my professional experience as a poetry editor to the conversation, as well as some extraordinary books of poetry to learn from—you bring your ideas and curiosity!


Annie’s Broadax: Making Room for Writing | Robert Michael Pyle

When she taught in Bellingham, Annie Dillard said: to be a serious writer, you must take a broadax to your life. What did she mean? How do you do it? How to find time for reading, for research, for the writing itself? And how to organize your life to make room for all that being a writer implies?, We will find the ways, with help from Gary Snyder, Bill Stafford, and others. Making words together, we will build a Practice.

4:00 – 4:30 | Closing Address

The Poem as Testament and Testimony| Roberto Ascalon

4:30 – 5:00 | Faculty Book Signing

Last chance to mingle with authors and get your books signed!

7:00 – 8:30 | Open Mics

At Various Locations in Fairhaven

Please sign up in the Syre Center Foyer