April 1 2009 12:00 AM

Rally offers ’one-day crush of information’ for aspiring writers of all levels


Local author Linda Peckham has been toiling in the literary soil for more than 20 years. And as one of the major forces behind this weekend’s Rally of Writers conference at Lansing Community College, she’d be the first to tell you to get rid of phrases like, “literary soil.”

The 22nd annual conference on writing and the writing industry will feature 16 sessions led by writers from the Lansing area and around the state, offering workshops for writers of all levels of experience.

Peckham said the annual event covers many different genres with a focus on ideas, structure, effective wording and matching markets to specific forms. “It is the warmest, most accessible one-day crush of information and inspiration in the Midwest,” she said.

Presenters include Jeff Vande Zande, an associate professor at Delta Community College, whose short stories have been favorably compared to Hemingway’s “Nick Adams Stories”; Lev Raphael, author of 19 books, including the recently published “My Germany;” and Gerry LaFemina, a fiction writer, poet and musician from Frostburg State University in Maryland.

VandeZande recently published a new book, “Landscape with Fragmented Figures,” and a film based on his first screen-writing project, “Sleepers,” was recently shown at a film festival in Bay City. He plans to show his short film and discuss the basics of screenwriting at the conference.

“I’m going to try to get the participants to see that a movie, especially a Hollywood movie, is a very structured thing,” VandeZane said. “I want budding screenwriters to see how helpful it is if they go into their projects with a plan.”

VandeZande will also lead a session on handling difficult aspects of exposition in fiction, such as how to introduce new characters and back-stories into one’s prose. “If your main character has an overbearing brother, how does a reader learn about it?” he rhetorically asked. “Does the main character say, ‘Hi John, big brother of mine towards whom I have some feeling of inferiority.’ Or does the reader learn about it a much more natural, less expository way?”

Other presenters include Lansing fantasy writer Dan Mishkin; Lansingarea children’s author and illustrator Ruth McNally Barshaw; “Star Trek” and “Battlestar Galactica” novelizer Steven Harper Piziks; outdoor photographer and writer Wayne Pope; Wisconsin mystery writer Deb Baker; magazine writer and freelance journalist Robert Bittner; and Lansing essayist and freelance journalist Andrea King Collier.

Collier is the author of several books on health, relationships and family, including “The Black Woman’s Guide to Black Men’s Health.” She has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post and online publications like the Huffington Post. She will conduct a session on the opportunities new media present for getting published and promoting books.

“The gate keepers are gone or relaxed, and the media shift presents more opportunities and outlets for writers to get their work published,” Collier said. “Writers are actually getting book deals from blogs, which are a good way to grab the attention of people who can publish your work. You can reach so many people now in different ways.”

LaFemina will give Saturday’s keynote speech on “The Strange Duality: the Social and Anti-Social Behaviors of Writers and Readers.” La Femina, a Pushcart Award Winner, recently released the book “Proofreading America.” His free address is open to the public and begins at 9 a.m.

In addition to the conference, the Rally is also sponsoring a free session at 7 p.m. Friday on “Movies Made in Michigan,” at Schuler Books & Music in the Eastwood Towne Center. The special guest at that event is Ahney Her, a Sexton High School junior who starred alongside Clint Eastwood in the critically acclaimed “Gran Torino,” which was filmed in Detroit. Joining her is the Michigan Film Commission’s Ken Droz, who will talk about the state’s financial incentives for filmmakers.

A Rally of Writers

a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, April 4 West Campus Conference Center, LCC, 4708
Cornerstone Drive, Lansing $60 in advance, $70 at door Free keynote
address at 9 a.m. (517) 372-4294 www.arallyofwriters.com