Authors educate and inspire students at annual Canyon Crest Academy Writers Conference in Carmel Valley

By Diane Y. Welch

Canyon Crest Academy’s Creative Writing Club held its third annual Canyon Crest Academy (CCA) Writers Conference on Saturday, Feb. 22. Best-selling authors, agents and other writing professionals addressed county-wide high school students, leading inspirational and educational workshops.

The event was free for attendees due to generous support from Gold Sponsors: OSIsoft, Summa Education and Chipotle, and Silver Sponsors: Entangled Publishing, DoubleTree Hotels, and Wells Fargo.

The conference, founded by CCA senior Devyn Krevat, drew almost 200 students, she said. Krevat served as emcee, introducing the first keynote speaker of the day, Kristin Elizabeth Clark, author of the novel “Freakboy.”

Clark’s talk focused on how to tackle a controversial subject matter bravely and dodge the “bumps and bruises we’re likely to encounter from coming face to face with the tough subjects that choose us,” she said.

Using the metaphor of a protective helmet, she urged the audience to chant, “No more helmets” to express a willingness to “write without fear in order to bring light to difficult topics.” Clark’s novel spotlights transgender, a subject matter that she said chose her.

She also gave highlights from the work of fellow authors Ellen Hopkins, who wrote “Crank” about her daughter’s drug addiction, and Laurie Halse Andersen, author of “SPEAK,” who writes about sexual assault and depression.

By writing these difficult edgy works authors are “holding up mirrors to what is out there” so that issues may be faced head on and possible solutions found, said Clark. In closing, Clark advised aspiring authors to “write what chooses you and create light!”

After the opening speech, students broke out into separate workshop sessions on several aspects of writing, including freelance magazine writing, self publishing, flash fiction, crafting great plots, point of view, stage plays, fantasy, romance, suspense, action scenes, song writing, book packaging, poetry, college application essays, and career building. Lissa Price, the second keynote speaker, talked passionately about her award-winning dystopic thriller series “Starters” and “Enders,” and gave tips on how to write page-turning novels with memorable characters.

A panel of agents gave candid advice on the benefits of having an agent and tips for aspiring agents on how to intern with a literary agency. Natalie Lakosil, Thao Le and Kelly Sonnack spoke about their roles in the publishing world and how they are there to springboard authors to success by taking care of the contractual details and the selling of a manuscript, leaving authors free to focus on their next book.

Advice on how to submit to an agent was covered, what genres are still hot, resources to find an agent and the importance of reading extensively and writing daily.

“You have to carve out that time every day, even if it means getting up really early in the morning,” said Sonnack.

Kelly advised, “Write from the heart and be true to yourself,” and Le told the audience, “Stand out by having a terrific book.”

Aiden McGeath, a junior at High Tech High, appreciated the advice from the agent panel. Although he is not currently working on a book, he said it was good to hear what the requirements are. “Five years down the line I might actually write something,” he joked.

Krevat, whose play “Fairy Tale” was one of the winning entries in the Playwrights Project and will be staged at The Old Globe this month, said that the conference was founded primarily to inspire students. “It’s really a thrill to be around these people who care so much about writing and it’s great to come to a place where you get such specific information to do it.”