Today's guest blog comes from Sebastian Starcevic, the owner of InkWaters: Freelance Writing Agency. He recently interviewed author Laura Thomas and discussed with her an exciting conference geared towards kid and teens. Thanks for sharing this with us, Sebastian!--Mary Ann
The Junior Authors Conference is a rare, one-day event for kids and teens to learn the craft of writing, meet industry professionals and network with other young writers. Featuring authors such as Lois Peterson, Michelle Barker and Darlene Foster, the purpose of the event is to inspire, educate and empower aspiring young writers – and of course, to have fun!
The conference will take place on Saturday, October 19th at the Sandman Signature Hotel & Resort in Richmond, BC, Canada.
Organiser Laura Thomas, who lives in the Vancouver, BC area, is a professional writer with 20 years of experience in storytelling and copywriting. She provides several opportunities for young writers including: the annual Junior Authors Short Story Contest, her Junior Bloggers program, her junior freelance program through her company Laura Thomas Communications, and her Facebook page Write Q&A. Her book for young readers and writers alike, Polly Wants To Be a Writer: The Junior Authors Guide to Writing & Getting Published, will be out in stores in October.
Why are you so passionate about helping young writers?
I remember exactly what it was like to want to be a writer when I was a teen. I had a burning desire to be a writer, but I did not know any writers and no one in my family had ever had a career in the arts. It seemed like a ridiculous career choice so I abandoned it and studied psychology, history and education at university.
Eventually, my talent for writing in the academic world opened doors for me and I did go on to write professionally. But it took a long time to get there. The funny thing is that even today, a lot of my family and friends really have no idea what I do for a living or why it’s even valuable. All writers need support to make it, young writers even more so. There is work out there, but it’s not always easy to figure out how to find it and train for it.
What made you decide to hold the Junior Authors Conference?
For years I have been teaching writing camps, giving talks and performing as a storyteller, but I made a commitment at the end of 2012 to start getting my books out. I’m a mom with two young children so time is a premium. Traveling to teach or to perform as a storyteller is very time consuming. Actually, I almost stopped offering the Junior Authors Contest as well, as it is also very labour intensive.
In the end, my commitment to helping young writers won out and I settled on organizing a one-day annual conference for 100 young writers that ties into what is now and international contest with more than 1,000 entrants. I feel the conference is an effective and efficient way for me to offer support and have more time to write my own books. In fact, Polly Wants to be a Writer is based on a short story writing course that I taught for years. It will help a lot of young writers, too.
What are some of benefits of attending the Junior Authors Conference?
Between door prizes and truly beneficial workshops, good food, being part of a book launch party and the announcement of the winners of this year’s Junior Authors Contest, I think it’s going to be a perfect day for aspiring young writers. Above all, getting 100 like-minded aspiring writers in one room for a day is going to seed the supportive relationships that can make the difference between making it as a writer and giving up on a dream. Even the simple act of having your mom or dad or grandma sign you up for a writing conference is a acknowledgement that your dreams and desires (and talents) are being taken seriously. This is huge. To that end, I have scheduled a brief workshop for parents at the end of the day on how to support a young writer.
The Junior Authors Contest has been running since 2007 and so far has collected thousands of entries from young writers around the globe. What inspired you to hold the competition?
As I said above, I was once an aspiring young writer trying to figure out how to get some practice and some recognition. That was back in the pre-Internet age, so it was like living in an information desert, there was nothing for me and I gave up for a time. Then, my writing students back in 2006, told me that there still wasn’t much out there for young writers.
I believe deeply that young writers should be competing with kids their own age. So I created a free annual writing contest to make that happen. I almost ditched it after five years to focus on my own books, but the gratitude that poured in at the end of last year’s contest touched me deeply and here we are at year six and it’s growing like made. I think I have answered over 700 questions on the contest page of my website since January and we are going to have well over 1,000 entries from writers in more than 40 countries. I’m glad I didn’t ditch it.
I should mention, too, that because we have sponsors, there are some scholarships available for this conference. The information is on the conference webpage.
Your new book is about a girl who struggles to face her inner ‘literary dragon.’ What message are you hoping to send to your readers, and how does it relate to your own experiences as a writer?
Polly, the protagonist, is so typical of the amateur writer. There is a ton of passion but it’s uncontrolled and undisciplined and manifests itself as a hypercritical inner voice (what I call an inner dragon) that does things like: stops a writer from finishing a first draft, stops a writer from editing a first draft, or stops a writer from send out his or her work. I used to be there but years of writing for hire have helped me train my inner dragon.
I know when to use that inner critic to help me edit and when to tell it to shut up and let me be creative. No one is born understanding the writing process. In the story Polly meets a writing mentor who unveils the process and helps her train her inner dragon so that, for once, she can finish a piece of writing that had a decent shot at getting published.
As I mentioned, this book is based in a short story course that I used to teach. In eight weeks I would take my students from the idea stage through to the submission stage. I held their hands every step of the way. Several students who took that course with me went on to have their stories published in paying markets. Along the way, I taught them the ins and outs of the publishing industry and how to navigate it. Polly Wants to be a Writer will do the same, but through fiction. I love teaching through storytelling.