A Magical Writer's Weekend: The 2016 Roanoke Regional Writer's Conference


Alice de Sturler is a Dutch non-practicing lawyer/human rights defender. She works on unsolved homicides, wrongful convictions, and assist other human rights defenders and attorneys when requested.

Her professional blog Defrosting Cold Cases won in the American Bar Association’s Top 100 Blawgs (category: criminal justice) in 2013, 2014, and 2015. You can follow her on Twitter.

The Roanoke Regional Writer’s Conference (RRWC) was supposed to take place on January 23rd but Mother Nature had decided otherwise. Every year she does a dance with Old Man Winter. He tries to tempt her into dancing with him as early as October. He sends her bouts of cold air whispering that he is polishing his dancing shoes. She answers him by returning a stream of late summer’s eves and blue skies. Until one day, Old Man Winter leaves his home and journeys to her house.

She can hear him coming from miles away. He isn’t very subtle and his arrival is on everyone’s radar. But will he get his dance? Mother Nature always tries to hold off and ignore him but his cold air is tempting. She has to admit that she loves the sensation of feeling the cold air slowly covering her sun-warmed skin as if she gently steps into a cold bath.

Their dance starts slowly. With skillful moves, Mother Nature tries to set Old Man Winter on the wrong foot to throw him off balance and escape his hold over her. But after all these years, he’s on to her game. He finds his balance, takes the lead, and smiles. She sees the sparkle in his eyes. There is no escape but she tries once more before she finally gives in and allows him to seduce her. And the stormy cold transforms into a majestic wonder. Even those who do not like the cold season agree: Mother Nature and Old Man Winter dance together beautifully. 

The magic of that snow- and homebound weekend took the sting out of not being able to attend the RRWC. But now it is here. I am excited but I am not sure what to expect.

This year we have a different set-up. The conference is now only one day and we start earlier than in previous years. Those attending in previous years have consistently requested fewer classes. The large number of excellent classes in the past have always caused frustration if you wanted to attend more than six classes. We now have six class periods. In each period are three classes to choose from. Of course, we break for lunch. It turned out to work fabulously. Everyone was so energetic and lively. The speakers spoke with fire and enthusiasm, the audience participated, and the classes were vibrant. Taking away the Friday late afternoon and evening section may just have been what it took to raise the conference’s effectiveness.

In previous years, I presented classes about starting your own blog and letting people know about it. This year I covered the most crucial stage in every author’s and blogger’s career: now that you have a fan base how do you make them stay? The points I had chosen were taken from experience and from feedback that I received from my readers on Defrosting Cold Cases. My class was packed and several attending contributed their knowledge to the subject matter. It was another joyful experience and I had a lot of fun despite running on only one cup of coffee!

All classes were well attended but what was even more important was that everyone mingled. Before and after classes, people looked each other up. Names and cards were exchanged, speakers were asked for further details, and plans were made to continue the discussion after the conference. Everyone came away with something new. Some sold books, others gained some new followers on social media, and many exchanged tips to help advance other writers’ projects. We heard tips about book covers, promotional materials, indie publishing, fighting self-doubt, how a character-driven story can enchant you, and how we can clean up our writing in a few easy steps.

From previous years, we knew that Old Man Winter’s dance with Mother Nature could spell trouble for our conference. But as always, magic has a way of working things out. It is as if our deepest wishes are whispered into the universe. Old Man Winter and Mother Nature had their dance and we are in awe again. The white landscape contrasts brilliantly against the deep blue skies. It transports every writer into their own world. From wishes come words to express gratitude for the conference, for the camaraderie, for the classes. For me, I am grateful for having been asked back and for meeting so many wonderful people. I look forward to the 2017 RRWC. And should Old Man Winter and Mother Nature decide to dance again exactly in that weekend, please do. But make it magical!

- Alice de Sturler

This is part of our series on the Roanoke Regional Writer's Conference. Read Kim Norris' reflections ahead of the conference here.