Annual Writers Conference - Christopher Newport University
Skip navigation

37th Annual Writers Conference

The Book Starts Here

Register Now


Friday, May 4

Schedule of events
3:30-4:30 p.m. Registration Freeman Center
4:30-6 p.m. Open Mic

You’ve been writing all year. Now is the time to share your words in front of a supportive audience. Readers must read their own work. Time is limited to five minutes. Sign up at the registration table to reserve your spot. Moderated by Michael Khandelwal of the Muse Writers Center.

Gaines Theatre
6:30-7:45 p.m. Keynote Panel: From Manuscript to Sales

You write your manuscript by yourself, but it takes a team to move your book to publication. These professionals will discuss the process of selling, editing and publicizing your book.

Mary Batten, moderator
Krista Soukup, publicist
Tess Callero, adult agent
Natalia Remis, children’s editor
Jennifer Mattson, children’s agent

Freeman Center 202
8-9:15 p.m. Evening Workshops

Hints for Polishing Your Fiction Submission – John Bray
Writing Nonfiction Imaginatively – Joe Jackson
Writing for the Screen – Matt Friedman

Descriptions below.

Freeman Center

Saturday, May 5

Schedule of events
8:15-8:45 a.m. Registration Freeman Center
9-10:20 a.m. Morning Workshops

The Art of the Narrative – David Robbins
Writing Your Life – Sharon Dorsey
Writing for the Screen – Matt Friedman

Descriptions below.

Freeman Center
10:30-11:30 a.m. Keynote: Keeping It Real: The Challenges of Writing Realistic Fiction for Young Readers

Writing about difficult subjects can be challenging. O’Connor shares her experiences from 30 years of writing about sometimes difficult subjects in books for young readers.

Barbara O’Connor

Gaines Theatre
11:30-12:50 p.m. Book Sales and Signing Freeman Center
Noon-12:50 p.m. Lunch Freeman Center
1-2:20 p.m. Early Afternoon Workshops

Panel: From Manuscript to Sales – Mary Batten, Moderator
Writing Nonfiction Imaginatively – Joe Jackson
Hints for Polishing Your Fiction Submission – John Bray

Descriptions below.

Freeman Center
2:30-3:50 p.m. Late Afternoon Workshops

The Well-Stocked Revision Toolbox – Barbara O’Connor
The Art of the Narrative – David Robbins
Writing Letter Poetry – Ed Lull

Descriptions below.

Freeman Center
4 p.m. Announcement of Contest Winners and Closing Words
Collin Norman
Gaines Theatre

Hints for Polishing Your Fiction Submission

John Bray

Learn some frequently overlooked suggestions for crafting your new book and a start to self-editing. Where do ideas come from? How do I create suspense? Why do we need a flawed protagonist? What is a villain, what is an antagonist, and what’s the difference? Does my villain need any redeeming values? Outline or seat-of-pants planning? Stay in the bounds of what you know or be sure of your research. Learn do’s and don’ts in your first chapter.

Writing Nonfiction Imaginatively

Joe Jackson

This will be a workshop in writing nonfiction imaginatively within a factual context. We’ll go over the three basic genres of the form (memoir, personal essay and literary journalism) and talk about such essentials as story, character development and point of view. Participants will have time in class to write a short excerpt of a longer imagined work, then we will critique it and make suggestions. To help this along, please bring some ideas or notes with you on the day of the class. This will allow you to dive into writing in the short time we have.

Writing for the Screen

Matt Friedman

Writing for the screen is a mysterious and uniquely demanding skill. How do you write when your audience isn’t book readers but a team of producers and filmmakers trying to bring your story to life? With this workshop, Friedman will cover some of the basics of screenwriting and share a bit of wisdom about how to do it well – including some of the tips Friedman has learned from his Sundance advisers, plus his own handful of years studying and writing for the screen.

Barbara O'Connor

Barbara O'Connor

You’ve finally typed those two glorious words at the end of your middle grade or YA novel: “The End.” But now comes perhaps one of the most daunting, yet critical, stages in the writing process: revision. Writers need good revision strategies to create the best, most powerful story possible. O’Connor will share some of the most important tools in her revision toolbox.

Writing Your Life

Sharon Dorsey

Each of us is unique and special. Our stories deserve to be told and preserved – for our families, at least, or perhaps for readers everywhere. “Writing Your Life” is a practical class in memoir writing – the whys and how-tos that promise results. We will cover the many aspects of writing and publishing your life story and help you formulate a seven-point plan to complete your memoir:

  1. Why it’s important to write about your life
  2. Who is your audience
  3. What to tell and what not to tell
  4. How photographs and drawings can enhance your story
  5. Thinking outside the box to enrich your memoir
  6. To publish or not to publish: how to choose from the many options
  7. Planning your work and working your plan

The Well-Stocked Revision Toolbox

Barbara O'Connor

Storytelling in any written format, from long-form novels and nonfiction to short stories, even poetry, can be daunting. There seems to be a great reliance on talent, inspiration, imagination, life wisdom and so on; a writer may well question his or her depth and wealth in these writerly attributes. But the ineffable ingredients to all successful creative writing aren’t the whole story.

A large quotient of every well-told tale relies on techniques: reliable, repeatable, manipulatable skills that can be learned and, with practice, mastered. When a writer understands method, the rest – that talent and richness of experience – can assert itself better. This session will survey several pillars of powerful creative writing, those elements of any good story that are ever present, so you can apply your writer’s individuality in more creative and effective ways.

Writing Letter Poetry

Ed Lull

This workshop involves writing a letter using poetic form for text. The use of email and social media as primary means of communication has tended to relegate letter-writing as a tool of past generations. Yet, who would not welcome receiving a creatively written letter from a friend? Poets of years ago often included poetry in the text or as the text of their letters. We will examine ways of creating letter poems, and many of you may leave with a completed letter poem of your own. To facilitate the hands-on work, attendees should bring a brief, written account of a recent incident (poem or prose). There will be handouts.


Mary Batten is an award-winning writer for television, film and publishing. Her many writing projects have taken her into tropical rainforests, astronomical observatories, scientific laboratories and medical research centers. She scripted some 50 television documentaries, was nominated for an Emmy, and is the author of many magazine articles for Cosmopolitan and others, and more than 15 nature/science books for adults and children, including Sexual Strategies: How Females Choose Their Mates and Aliens from Earth – 2006 Isaak Walton Conservation Book of the Year Award (updated edition 2016). Her most recent books are Baby Orca and Rattler.



After serving for 17 years in the New York City Police Department, Bray took early retirement with the rank of lieutenant in 1976. While with NYPD, he acquired a bachelor of science degree from John Jay College and a juris doctor degree from Brooklyn Law School. After admission to the bar he was assigned for four years as a lieutenant prosecutor in the department’s internal disciplinary system.

Upon leaving the NYPD, he practiced criminal defense law on Long Island and in New York City for 30 years. In 2004, he earned a master of arts degree in theology from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, Long Island. Now fully retired, he lives with his wife Vera in Williamsburg, Virginia.

He is a past president of the Chesapeake Bay Writers Club, and a member of the International Thriller Writers.

He is the author of five novels now published on Amazon Kindle and in print by Endeavour Press of London, England with new titles and cover art:

  • Flags of Our Sons, a historical novel of the Civil War era, (formerly The Ballad of Johnny Madigan)
  • Blue Heat, a police procedural/thriller and the first in his Dante trilogy, (formerly titled The Confidential)
  • Home Front, (formerly Code Name: Caleb), the sequel to Flags of Our Sons
  • His fourth novel, the sequel to Blue Heat, is titled Broken Force, the second Dante novel.
  • The fifth novel, titled Echo of Darkness, is the third in the Dante trilogy.

Several of his short stories have been published in both print in Lost Coast Review magazine and various e-zine formats.

After graduating from Indiana University with a dual degree in marketing and English, Callero began working at Curtis Brown, Ltd. She is now an associate agent and is currently building her list. She represents commercial and upmarket adult fiction, young adult and select nonfiction projects.

Follow her on Twitter at @TessCallero

Sharon Canfield Dorsey has published fiction, nonfiction, juvenile fiction and poetry in magazines, newspaper, journals and anthologies. She was editor of Expats International for two years and a columnist for the Ashland Oil Newsletter. She is a member of Pen Women International, James City Poets and the Chesapeake Bay Writers. Dorsey has received awards from the CNU Writers Conference, Poetry Society of Virginia, Gulf Coast Writer’s Association and Chesapeake Bay Writers.

She was a 2017 winner of the Art Lit project to display poetry on the sidewalks of the city of Williamsburg. Dorsey is the author of two children’s books, Herman the Hermit Crab and the Mystery of the Big, Black, Shiny Thing; and Revolt of the Teacups; a memoir, Daughter of the Mountains; and a book of poetry, Tapestry. Her poems are also included in an anthology by the James City Poets, titled, Captured Moments. She is a senior sales director of 38 years with Mary Kay Cosmetics, mom to son, Steven and daughter, Shannon, and grandmother to Adaline, Emma and Zachary.

Matt Friedman is a filmmaker, screenwriter and web/graphic designer in Virginia. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia. He currently teaches filmmaking at the Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk, where he also adapted and directed their first feature film, “The Unknown Variable.” He assistant directed the Doritos Superbowl commercial “Man’s Best Friend,” the No. 1 ad on the 2012 Ad-Meter, and co-wrote the follow up commercials “Carjacked” and “Mr. Davis.”

He won best screenplay at the Digital Visions film festival for his first feature film, “Moving,” and his second screenplay “All of Creation” was accepted to the January 2003 Sundance Screenwriters Lab as its first Sloan Fellowship recipient.

He served as editor for “Luthiel’s Song” and “Growth Shock” by Robert Fanney. He has been a panelist at the Virginia Festival of the Book in screenwriting and book design, and over the years has taken a variety of jobs and hobbies, ranging from theater director and producer, theater artistic director, book editor, songwriter, actor and more. He and his brother run Frame25Productions, a boutique design firm where they are also secretly developing their second independent feature film project – don’t tell anyone.

Joe Jackson is the author of one novel and seven nonfiction titles, including The Thief at the End of the World, named one of Time magazine’s Top Ten Books for 2008, and Leavenworth Train, a finalist for the 2002 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime. Jackson holds an MFA from the University of Arkansas and was an investigative reporter for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot for 12 years, covering criminal justice and the state's death row.

His journalism has resulted in the acquittal of a man wrongly convicted of murder, the federal investigation of a jail in which 16 prisoners died of medical neglect, and the recantations of two men whose testimony helped send men to death row. He is currently the Mina Hohenberg Darden Endowed Professor of Creative Writing in Old Dominion University’s MFA creative writing program. His biography of Sioux holy man Black Elk, known from the oral history Black Elk Speaks, was released by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in October 2016, and is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography and winner of the PEN America Award in Biography.

Ed Lull grew up in upstate New York, and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. He earned a master’s degree from George Washington University in 1969. After his Navy career, he held management and executive positions in several small high-tech firms in Washington, D.C.

Lull began writing poetry in retirement; he has published six books of his poetry: Cabin Boy to Captain: a Sea Story in 2003; Where Giants Walked in 2005; The Sailors: Birth of a Navy in 2007; Bits and Pieces: A Memoir in 2011; Creating Form Poetry: A Poet’s Handbook in 2013; and The Reality and Fantasy of My World in 2017.

He is a life member in the Poetry Society of Virginia and served four terms as its president. Lull initiated the Saturday Poetry Series that provides poetry readings on the first Saturday of the month, in 2001; it is currently in its 17th year. He chairs the James City Poets Workshop and the Emerson Society of Williamsburg, an essay writing group. He was the inaugural winner of the Emyl Jenkins Award in 2012 “...for inspiring a love of writing and writing education in Virginia."

Jennifer Mattson has been with Andrea Brown Literary Agency for nine years, and began working in children's publishing immediately out of college - including five years as a an editor at Dutton and five years as a Books for Youth reviewer with Booklist. She represents all audiences and genres, and looks for authors or author-illustrators who bring a deep professionalism, an open mind and a fresh point of view to their work. Mattson is based in Chicago and enjoys speaking at SCBWI and other writers' conferences in Chicagoland and farther afield.

Follow her on Twitter @jannmatt

Fiction Jennifer represents: Jenny Meyerhoff's comic middle grade series, The Barftastic Life of Louie Burger (FSG/Macmillan); and Kate Hannigan’s sweet chapter book series, Cupcake Cousins (Disney*Hyperion), and her historical middle grade novel, The Detective's Assistant (Little, Brown/Hachette), which won the 2016 Golden Kite Award for Middle Grade Fiction, received two starred reviews, was a Booklist Editor's Choice, and appeared on the 2016 Amelia Bloomer List.

Picture books she represents: the first picture book by Grammy award-winning folk-roots musicians The Okee Dokee Brothers, Can You Canoe and Other Adventure Songs (Sterling); poet Linda Ashman's lyrical ode to rhythms of the natural world, All We Know (HarperCollins), and her celebration of optimism, Rain! (Houghton/HMH); and Kim Norman's three Arctic Companion books that cleverly spin off favorite preschool songs, Ten on the Sled, If It's Snowy and You Know It, and She'll Be Comin' Up the Mountain (all Sterling).

Artists she represents: Geisel Honor winning author-illustrator Paul Meisel, who has illustrated or written more than 70 books for young readers; J.R. Krause, author-illustrator of two picture books featuring a bilingual inventor mouse, Poco Loco and Happy Birthday, Poco Loco! (both Two Lions/Amazon); Ramon Olivera, debut author-illustrator of ABCS On Wings and ABCS On Wheels (both Little Simon/S&S); Liz Starin, debut author-illustrator of Splashdance (FSG/Macmillan), a Junior Library Guild selection and a PW Best Summer Book of 2016; and former Google doodler Katy Wu, illustrator of several new picture book biographies, including Laurie Wallmark's Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (Sterling) and Carrie Clickard's Dumpling Dreams (Paula Wiseman/S&S).

Barbara O’Connor was born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina. “I have fond and vivid memories of lazy childhood summers, eating the boiled peanuts my grandmother made from the peanuts in her garden, picnicking in the Smoky Mountains, and catching crawfish and minnows in the creeks near my house.”

After graduating from the University of South Carolina, Barbara headed west to Southern California. After taking a class in writing for children at UCLA, she was hooked. A few years and more than a few rejections later, she sold her first children’s book and has been writing ever since.

Barbara left California for New England, where she spent 26 years before returning South. She currently lives with her husband and two dogs in Asheville, North Carolina, surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. She spends her days drawing on her childhood memories to create her stories, settings and characters.

“Sometimes my characters eat boiled peanuts,” O'Connor says. “Sometimes they go to the Smoky Mountains. Maybe they see kudzu vines covering up barns or listen to church music on the radio inside their trailers. They might catch crawfish in an icy cold stream or eat pickled okra from a jar. My stories have pieces of me in them—all mixed in with the made-up parts. That’s what writers do—mix in the real stuff with the made-up stuff.”

O'Connor’s award-winning novels for children, include Wish, How to Steal a Dog, The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis, and The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester. In addition to seven Parents Choice Awards, Barbara’s distinctions include School Library Journal Best Books, Kirkus Best Books, Bank Street College Best Books, and ALA Notables. She has had books nominated for children’s choice awards in 38 states. Barbara is a popular visiting author at schools and a frequent speaker at conferences around the country.

Natalia Remis is an associate editor for Scholastic Press, The Blue Sky Press and Orchard Books, imprints of Scholastic. One of her favorite projects has been assisting with Rivers of Sunlight by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm, a nonfiction picture book about the sun’s role in our Earth’s water cycle, which has garnered five starred reviews. She has also worked with editors on the How Do Dinosaurs ... series by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mark Teague, and books by authors David Shannon, Jon J Muth, Barbara McClintock, and Rodman Philbrick.

David L. Robbins grew up in Sandston, by the Richmond airport. His father was among the first to sit behind the new radar screens in the air traffic control tower. Both parents were children of immigrants, both were WWII veterans.

In 1976, David graduated from William & Mary with a BA in theater and speech. Having little real theatrical talent, he attended what he calls the “great catch-basin of unfocused over-achievers”: law school. In 1980, he received his JD, again from William & Mary. Robbins practiced environmental law in Columbia, South Carolina for a year to the day (his father demanded back the money for law school if David practiced less than one year – he quit two weeks before the anniversary but got Sam to agree that vacation time could be included) before turning to a career as a freelance writer in 1981.

He began writing fiction in 1997 and has since published 14 novels, with repeated visits to the New York Times bestsellers list. Robbins also writes for the stage, including adaptations of his novels Scorched Earth and The End of War, plus an original play, Sam & Carol. In addition to teaching advanced creative writing at VCU’s Honors College, he is the founder of James River Writers, co-founder of the Podium Foundation, which supports the practice of writing for Richmond area youth, and is the creator of The Mighty Pen Project, giving Virginia veterans and their families training to turn their memories of military service into written, archived narratives. The Virginia Commission for the Arts has named him one of the two most influential literary artists in the state for the last 50 years.

Currently, Robbins is at work on Isaac’s Beacon, an epic novel set in Palestine during the tumultuous years of 1945-48.

Krista is a literary marketing consultant and owner of Blue Cottage Agency, providing publicity and marketing services to literary artists, publishers and literary arts organizations She has a passion for helping writers and authors successfully promote their work and establish their platform. Through her expert guidance, knowledge of the publishing industry and vast experience, she has successfully supported writers and authors across the country and Europe. She holds a bachelor of science degree in business administration and marketing and has over 25 years of experience in sales, promotions and marketing.


Participants will submit in advance up to 10 pages of their writing to be reviewed by an editor. Then they will meet with the editor for a 15-minute critique session to discuss their work.

$40 additional fee for conference registrants only. Submissions must be received by April 6, 2018.


  • Tess Callero, adult agent
  • Natalia Remis, children's editor
  • Krista Soukup, publicist

Pitch Sessions

Here’s your chance. “Tell me about your work” means 15 minutes of fame is yours to shine. Participants will meet with an agent and pitch their work for about five minutes, introducing and promoting the concept and trying to grab the agent’s attention. Then they’ll have 10 minutes for further discussion.

$40 additional fee for conference registrants only.


  • Tess Callero, adult agent
  • Natalia Remis, children's editor
  • Jennifer Mattson, children’s and YA agent

Writing Contest

Submission deadline: April 6, 2018

Registrants may submit one entry in one or more of the four categories. Prizes will be awarded at the closing ceremony.


  • Fiction: Heidi Hartwiger
  • Nonfiction: Dr. Nicole Emmelhainz
  • Poetry: Anne Shalaski and Bob Kelly
  • Juvenile fiction: Kim Norman

Contest Rules

  1. All entries must be unpublished manuscripts. Work that appears in on-campus publications or online publications is considered published and may not be submitted.
  2. Entries must be on 8.5 x 11-inch white paper and double-spaced in 12-point font (Times New Roman or Courier).
  3. Author may submit up to one work in each category. A $10 fee must accompany each submission.
  4. There must be a removable title page (e.g., paper clipped) with the author’s name, address, category and title.
  5. Title and page number must appear on each page of the manuscript.
  6. The word count for each category is:
    • Fiction: one story or book chapter, not to exceed 3,000 words
    • Juvenile fiction: one story or book chapter, not to exceed 2,000 words
    • Nonfiction: one article or book chapter, not to exceed 3,000 words
    • Poetry: one poem, not to exceed 100 lines
  7. Judges have been requested to comment in writing (length at their discretion).
  8. Failure to follow contest rules will disqualify entry. Cancellation of registration will disqualify entries.
  9. Faxed or emailed entries will not be accepted.
  10. Entries must be mailed or delivered to:
    LifeLong Learning Society
    Christopher Newport University’s Yoder Barn Theatre
    660 Hamilton Drive
    Newport News, VA 23602
  11. Christopher Newport students may submit entries to Dr. Kara Keeling in the Department of English.
  12. Entries may be picked up at the close of the conference or the LLS office. After 30 days, any remaining entries will be shredded.