Kentucky Writers Conference

Bestselling authors and educators participating in SOKY Book Fest will teach craft workshops about everything from plotting techniques to employing poetic language to getting published. The conference is free and open to the public, but seating is limited, so you must register in advance.

The Kentucky Writers Conference is made possible through the generous support of Dollar General.

Optional Registration

The conference is free and open to the public. Priority registration will open in March 2018.
Walk-in seating for open workshops is first-come, first-served.

If you would like to only register for one session, you can skip to each available session using the buttons below:

Session Information:

Updated 3/16: Dana Chamblee Carpenter will replace C.J. Redwine for the Query Letter workshop, and Liz Kay will replace the YA Chicks for the session on character development. The subject matter of these sessions has not changed; however, due to scheduling conflicts, we have had to replace some workshop hosts.

Session 1: 9:00 am – 10:15 am

Virginia Smith: Writing the Here-and-Now

To keep a reader engaged, a fictional plot must maintain a forward momentum. But what about all that rich history the reader needs to know? This workshop will demonstrate how to effectively relay backstory and flashbacks without slowing your story’s pace.

Virginia Smith is the bestselling author of twenty-four novels, an illustrated children’s book, and over fifty articles and short stories. An avid reader with eclectic tastes in fiction, Ginny writes in a variety of styles, from lighthearted relationship stories to breath-snatching suspense. Her books have been finalists in ACFW’s Carol Award, the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, the Maggie Awards, and the National Reader’s Choice Awards. Two of her novels, A Daughter’s Legacy (2011) and Dangerous Impostor (2013) received the Holt Medallion Award of Merit. Learn more about her here.

Lee Martin: Narrative Tips for Story Writers

This is a class for those who want to think more fully about how to tell stories, whether in fiction or in personal narrative. We’ll consider beginnings and endings, characterization, setting, causality, and dramatic irony. Our goal will be to pick up some tips for how to give our narratives more resonance, thereby making them impossible for editors to ignore. We’ll try a brief writing activity designed to begin a narrative in a productive way, one that will guarantee we’ll follow it to an end.

Lee Martin is the Pulitzer Prize Finalist author of The Bright Forever and four other novels: Quakertown, River of Heaven, Break the Skin, and Late One Night. His other books are the memoirs Such a Life, From Our House, and Turning Bones; and the short story collection, The Least You Need to Know. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in such places as Harper’s, Ms., Creative Nonfiction, The Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, Fourth Genre, River Teeth, The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, and Glimmer Train. He is the winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ohio Arts Council. He teaches in the MFA Program at The Ohio State University, where he was the winner of the 2006 Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching. Learn more about Lee here.

Jesse Donaldson: Writing a Novel: How to tackle the beast (and only end up scarred)

People have been writing novels for hundreds of years and we’ve learned this: There’s no one secret that unlocks the path to writing a novel. However, there are approaches that can help you finish one. From structuring a plot and developing characters to editing and revision, we will explore the novel-writing process. I’ll recap the best of the advice I’ve received and hopefully we will all leave the session excited to get some words on the blank page.

Jesse Donaldson was born and raised in Kentucky, attended Kenyon College and Oregon State University, and was a fellow at The Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas. His writing has appeared in The Oxford American, Little Star, and Crazyhorse. Among other things, he’s worked as a gardener, copywriter, teacher, and maintenance man. He currently lives in Oregon with his wife and daughter. Learn more here.

Dave Harrity:Writing Narrative and Prose Poems

People love stories. Stories are how we communicate our thoughts, ideas, pains, and joys. Without stories, we’d simply be less human and life would be pretty dull. In this workshop, we’ll take a look at how stories can be turned into poetry. We will look at and discuss several poems and workshop our own pieces. We’ll examine technical aspects of poetry and narrative, as well as discuss some personal and practical methods of developing our own stories into poetry. All skill levels and ages are able to bring something to the table. Let’s learn why poetry is a great way to tell a tale.

Dave Harrity’s writing has appeared in Verse Daily, Memorious, Revolver, The Los Angeles Review, Copper Nickel, Confrontation, Softblow and elsewhere. Author of three books, his most recent are These Intricacies (Cascade Books, 2015) and Our Father in the Year of the Wolf (Word Farm, 2016). The recipient of an Emerging Artist Award from the Kentucky Arts Council and a William Alexander II and Lisa Percy Fellowship recipient from the Rivendell Writers’ Colony, he lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife and children. Learn more about Dave here.

Session 2: 10:30 am – 11:45 am

Liz Kay: Writing a Whole Person

Sometimes our characters arrive in our imaginations fully formed. More often, we have to go looking for them. We’ll talk about where to find them, how to make them real, and how to bring them to life on the page.

Liz Kay’s poems have appeared in such journals as Willow Springs, Beloit Poetry Journal, Nimrod, RHINO, and Sugar House Review. Alongside co-editor, Jen Lambert, Liz is a founding editor of Spark Wheel Press and the journal burntdistrict. Liz is a recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize. Monsters: A Love Story is her first novel. Read more on her author page.

Updated 3/16.

Catherine McKenzie: Let’s Talk Dialogue

Strong dialogue imbues fiction with authenticity and energy, but how do you craft it artfully? How can you write passages of dialogue that feel realistic without being dull? How do you convey action without seeming forced? Join author Catherine McKenzie for a workshop on crafting tight, narrative-propelling dialogue.

A graduate of McGill University in History and Law, Catherine practices law in Montreal, where she was born and raised. Catherine’s novels, SpinArrangedForgottenHidden, and Smoke are all international bestsellers and have been translated into numerous languages, including French, German, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, Slovakian and Czech. Hidden was also a #1 Amazon bestseller and a Digital Bookworld bestseller for five weeks. Smoke was named one of the Top 100 Books in 2015 by Amazon and one of the Best Books of October by Goodreads, and was an Amazon bestseller.  Arranged has been optioned for film, and Spin has been optioned for a television series. A short film of Arranged was made in 2014 and won a Canadian National Screen Institute Award. Catherine was on set while they filmed it. It was one of the cooler experiences of her life. Catherine’s sixth novel, Fractured, was published by Lake Union in October 2016.

An avid skier and runner, Catherine climbed the Grand Teton in 2014. And if you want to know how she has time to do all that, the answer is: robots. Visit her here.

Dean Johnson: You’ve Got a Complete Manuscript, Now What?

Whether you’re a writer of poetry or prose, at some point you’re going to have a complete manuscript on your hands. Do you submit it to contests or small presses? Should you find a literary agent or maybe revise one more time? And what are the do’s and don’ts of query letters? This will be a nuts & bolts discussion and Q&A about what is the right path for what you’ve written.

 R. Dean Johnson is the author of the story collection, Delicate Men (2014) the creative nonfiction chapbook, Something L.A. (2015), and the novel, Californium (July 2016). His essays and stories have appeared in AscentHawai’i Pacific ReviewLouisville Review, New Orleans Review, Ruminate, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. An Associate Professor at Eastern Kentucky University, he directs the Bluegrass Writers Studio Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program. Originally from Anaheim, California, he now lives in Richmond, Kentucky with his wife, the author Julie Hensley, and their two children. Read more here.

Susan Page Davis: Keeping a Series on the Mark

Readers love fiction series because they can return to beloved characters and compelling themes. One of the most challenging aspects of writing a novel series is keeping the data consistent from book to book and maintaining the vital components the readers expect in every installment. In this workshop, learn how to write series alone or with other authors and keep the tone, ambiance, and consistent details throughout. Learn to maintain a series guide that will save you grief down the road.

Susan Page Davis is the author of more than 60 published novels in the romantic suspense, mystery, and historical romance genres. She’s written several series solo and others with a co-author or a multiple-author team. She’s a winner of the Carol Award, Will Rogers Medallion, and the FHL Readers’ Choice Award (formerly the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award), and a finalist in the WILLA Literary Awards and Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Awards. Susan lives in western Kentucky. Learn more here.

Session 3: 12:45 pm – 2:00 pm

Randy Susan MeyersDebuting as an Author After 50

What are the perils and peaks of starting one’s writing career later in life? How does one fight the prejudice against age while using the wisdom that comes with it?  Do editors, readers, and agents appreciate the balanced view brought by older writers? Some of the challenges this workshop examines is our cultural assumption that precocity = brilliance, and the assumption that older are women are invisible, while in fact the opposite is true. Age brings both wisdom and a willingness to speak up; but how can we use this to our best advantage. Should we use literary Botox? And what about that author picture?

Randy Susan Meyers was 57 when St. Martin’s Press brought out her debut novel The Murderer’s Daughters in 2010—now her fourth novel The Widow of Wall Street has just launched with Simon & Schuster. See her author page for more.

Tobias Carroll: Location as Inspiration

Sometimes the spark that first brings a short story or novel to life isn’t a character or a conflict: it’s a specific place around which everything else can emerge. Tobias Carroll, author of Reel and Transitory, will lead you through a workshop in which memorable places, buildings, and spaces can become central to your writing. He will cite examples from his own works, as well as memorable stories by other writers in which the location itself is a significant element of the story.

Tobias Carroll is the author of the novel Reel and the collection Transitory. His writing has been published by Tin HouseHazlittRolling StoneMen’s JournalJoyland, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he is the managing editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn. Learn more here.

Tom Hunley: Poetry and Pop Culture

Can poetry, an art form typically associated with high culture, profitably engage with pop culture? Join Tom C. Hunley, author of The State That Springfield Is In (Split Lip Press 2016), a book of poems written in the voices of characters from The Simpsons, to explore the intersections between poetry and Americana. Professor Hunley will walk you through student-tested prompts that will make your poems pop.

 Tom C. Hunley is a professor of English/Creative Writing at Western Kentucky University, the director of Steel Toe Books, and lead singer/guitarist of Night of the Living Dead Poets Society. His poems have been published in Atlanta ReviewConnecticut ReviewExquisite CorpseNew Orleans ReviewRiver Styx, and elsewhere. Visit his author page here.

Dana Chamblee Carpenter: The Art of the Query Letter

When there are lots of folks fishing at the same pond, using the right bait can make the difference between having catfish for supper or going home empty handed. It’s no different when trying to land an agent or hook a reader. Mastering the art of the query is a vital and necessary skill for any writer looking to publish. In this interactive session, learn how to craft an engaging, professional query with a dynamic description of your book.

Dana Chamblee Carpenter is the author of The Devil’s Bible, the sequel to Bohemian Gospel, a supernatural historical thriller which won the 2014 Killer Nashville Claymore Award and which Publisher’s Weekly called “a deliciously creepy debut.” Edgar Award nominee and author of Bliss House and The Abandoned Heart, Laura Benedict says, “Look out, Dan Brown. Dana Chamblee Carpenter is the angels’ new champion in the timeless battle between darkness and light. The Devil’s Bible is not just a book, but a shining, vibrant tale for the ages—told with history and heart—that will have readers both weeping and cheering not only for brave Mouse, but for all of humanity.”

Carpenter’s award winning short fiction has appeared in The Arkansas Review, Jersey Devil Press, Maypop, and, most recently in the anthology, Killer Nashville Noir: Cold Blooded.

She teaches at a private university in Nashville, TN where she lives with her husband and two children. Visit her at her author page.

Updated 3/16.

Session 4: 2:15 pm – 3:30 pm

Sarah Gorham: Publishing Q&A

Join Sarah Gorham, founder of Sarabande Books in Louisville, and Erin Slaughter (MFA student at Western Kentucky University and former Sarabande Books Intern) as they discuss the ins and outs of getting published, working with an independent press, and more. Be sure to prepare your publishing questions before you arrive: half of this session is open Q&A with her audience!

Sarah Gorham is a poet, essayist, and president and editor in chief at Sarabande Books, an independent literary press publishing poetry, short fiction, and essays. She is the author of Study in Perfect (Georgia), which won the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction. She lives in Prospect, Kentucky. See her author page for more.

Julie Hensley: Developing Story Cycles

Description coming soon  

Julie Hensley was raised on a sheep farm in the Shenandoah Valley and traveled West to earn a MFA from Arizona State University.  Now she makes her home in Richmond, Kentucky, with the writer R. Dean Johnson and their two children. She is a core faculty member of the Bluegrass Writers Studio, the low-residency MFA program at Eastern Kentucky University. Her poems and stories have appeared in dozens of journals, and several have been Pushcart-nominated. Viable is her first book of poems. A collection of her fiction, Landfall: A Ring of Stories, won the Ohio State University Nonfiction prize and was published in summer 2016. Learn more here.

Sallie Bingham: Memoir: Your Family or Your Life 

Join acclaimed memoirist Sallie Bingham as she teaches a workshop about using letters, journals and historical research to write memoir about members of one’s family: the risks and the rewards. This is the last generation of writers to have access to rich troves of letters since the internet has replied almost all other forms. Bingham will use as example her memoir, The Blue Box: Three Lives in Letters as well as my forthcoming memoir, Little Brother: The Short Life and Strange End of Jonathan Worth Bingham to show examples.

Sallie Bingham has been writing since childhood, with thirteen books published so far–fiction, non-fiction and memoir–and a biography of Doris Duke due out from Farrar, Press and Giroux in 2018. See her author page for more.

Courtney Stevens and Kristin Tubb: First Page Critique Workshop

An editor or agent will often remark that they know on Page One if they’ll continue reading a manuscript. This First Page Critique Workshop is a unique opportunity to gain insight into the techniques involved in crafting an attention-grabbing first page. Anonymous first pages will be chosen randomly, read aloud to the group, and Courtney C. Stevens and Kristin O’Donnell Tubb will discuss the ever-important question: how do I keep readers reading?

Attendees of the workshop will need to bring two copies of the first page of a manuscript-in-progress. Please do not include your name on the manuscript and please use traditional formatting (12-point font, double-space paragraphs), to strive for enough time to cover all attendees’ stories. Positive critiques, thoughtful feedback, and constructive discussion of what constitutes an excellent first page is the goal!

Courtney C. Stevens grew up in Kentucky and lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She is an adjunct professor and a former youth minister. Her other skills include playing hide-and-seek, climbing trees, and being an Olympic torch bearer. Read more here.

Kristin O’Donnell Tubb wrote John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy (as E.F. Abbott), after hearing the incredible story of Johnny Clem, a nine-year-old runaway who because a famous Civil War drummer boy. Visit her author page here.

Event Details


April 20, 2018
9:00 am – 3:30 pm
Event Categories:


SOKY Book Fest
[email protected]


WKU South Campus
2355 Nashville Road
Bowling Green, KY 42101 United States
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Kentucky Writers Conference

The Kentucky Writers Conference is made possible through the generous support of Dollar General.

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