Arts & Entertainment

Acclaimed author enthuses teens about writing at CCA Writers' Conference

A creative writer should approach composition like a painter uses a palette knife to spontaneously manipulate color and texture, author Elana K. Arnold told more than 200 teens at Canyon Crest Academy in Carmel Valley Saturday, Feb. 24.

“Get messy, explore and create,” urged Arnold, who is heralded for fiction geared toward teens and children. Her young adult novel “What Girls Are Made Of” was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award.

As keynote speaker of the Canyon Crest Academy Writers’ Conference, Arnold’s address, “The Transformative Power of Art: Radical Truth-Telling in Fiction,” encouraged students to use their painful and uncomfortable experiences as springboards for storytelling and to write for themselves as opposed to crafting their work based on others’ expectations.

Her remarks set a bold, enthusiastic tone for what conference organizers say is the only event of its type offered free of charge in the nation.

Open to high school students throughout San Diego County, Saturday’s eight-hour forum drew about 225 students from 39 schools, said volunteer parent organizer Simone Camilleri.

Her daughter, Sophie, is co-president of the academy’s Creative Writing Club, which put on the event with the support of sponsors Hamilton College Consulting and ArtPlace.net.

“This is the highest (attendance) we’ve had so far, so it’s very exciting,” Simone Camilleri said.

The conference featured talks and workshops by more than a dozen authors, three playwrights and screenwriters, two educators, a songwriter, journalist, poet and literary agent.

Comedian Taylor Williamson concluded the program as the day’s inspirational speaker.

New York Times best-selling fiction writer Jonathan Maberry, a Del Mar resident, said the conference was the third in which he has participated.

“It’s incumbent on us to invite more kids into the playground (of writing) because that’s where the fun is,” he said. “That’s where the toys are.”

San Diego author Greg van Eekhout, who specializes in middle-grade to adult science fiction and fantasy, was participating in his sixth conference.

“This is my favorite event of the year,” he said.

Exposing students interested in writing to published professionals is an important aspect of the conference, van Eekhout said.

“When I was in high school, I was a writer but didn’t have any contact with writers, except maybe one on Career Day,” he said. “If you want to be a firefighter, it’s useful to have contact with firefighters. If you want to be a writer, it’s useful to have contact with writers.”

That was one of the points 16-year-old La Jolla High junior Meg Young took away from the opening remarks by Arnold.

“It was nice to hear a perspective from a writer in person,” Young said. “I think it was a rare thing to hear.”

Young also was impressed by Arnold’s response to a student’s question.

“She talked about dialogue and how each line should say something about the character, move the story forward and create conflict,” Young said.

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