Comment from Julie McDonald: Conference draws writers from Oregon and Washington to Centralia

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By Julie McDonald / For The Chronicle

We did it!

In the midst of a pandemic, we hosted the Southwest Washington Writers Conference where more than four dozen authors gathered in person on Friday and Saturday at Centralia College to learn from each other while enjoying some much-needed fellowship – although with many precautions taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“It was wonderful to connect with other writers in person after such a long COVID hiatus,” said Yvonne Kays, who again drove from Bend, Oregon, to attend the conference with her friend, Anna Snyder. “You always offer a great range of workshop choices. Melanie Dobson gave an inspiring opening speech on Saturday and her workshops on historical fiction writing were filled with helpful suggestions, sample video clips and valuable resources. You hit another home run!

“It’s inspiring to discuss storytelling with other writers and share ideas about publishing and advertising,” said author Jake Blake of Toledo. “This conference helped me see where I need to focus my efforts to reach my target audience.

Jim Rubart’s Friday master class on “The Art of Branding” was very positive with Bill Lindstrom of Olympia one of the conference volunteers.

“I was particularly touched by his presentation, which was informative, educational, emotional, inspiring and often humorous,” he said. “It was a good start. “

No one wanted to create a super broadcast event, so the volunteers involved in organizing the conference followed all of the guidelines set out by Centralia College – and more. We wanted to have a secure conference where people could connect and learn in a healthy way.

To that end, volunteer James Pratt from Chehalis used a digital thermometer to analyze the temperatures of everyone who entered the Walton Science Center on Friday and Saturday. Fortunately, we didn’t have to turn anyone away because of the fever.

We demanded masks and gave one to anyone who was not wearing one. We only provided prepackaged foods: oranges, bananas, individually wrapped breakfast pastries and snack bars. We ordered delicious lunches from Dawn’s Delectables – delivered by owner Dawn Merchant herself. People raved about the lunch in their reviews and asked us to order them again next year.

Each of our rooms contained hand sanitizers with several large bottles scattered around the lobby. We purchased Clorox wipes to sanitize the tables between sessions.

Our team of volunteers was phenomenal. Speculative fiction author Kyle Pratt de Chehalis, our webmaster and father of James, served as the technical reference person, while Amy Flugel organized room monitors who introduced the presenters and ensured that the protocols of security are respected during each session. Novelist Debby Lee hosted a workshop, concocted raffle baskets and sold tickets, raising $ 180 for scholarships. Olympia authors Sandy Crowell and Bill Lindstrom helped recruit presenters, proofread materials and post signs throughout the building.

“Our writers’ conference, I think, is a special gift to all of us,” said Crowell, author of “The Land Called Lewis” and editor of “Water, Woods & Prairies,” a Thurston County history. “It’s small, intimate and inspiring. We learn from highly qualified people and share our own experiences and work. I dusted off a lot of cobwebs and new sparks were ignited.

My fellow Chronicle columnist Brian Mittge posted photos and provided a live video to Facebook of our Saturday morning talk, which posed the only social distancing issue. We were limited to 54 people in the auditorium, which meant presenters had to watch the speech in another room so paid speakers could see it in person.

Book N Brush at Chehalis graciously offered to run the conference bookstore, and Gorham Printing at Centralia printed our posters and conference programs, provided bags for each attendee, and donated to cover costs so that we could collect. more money for scholarships offered through the Centralia College Foundation, which handled the money.

All proceeds from the conference go to the foundation.

We have experienced some hiccups related to the pandemic. One presenter didn’t feel comfortable presenting in person, so we recorded her presentation and then called her via Zoom for a live Q&A.

Another who was teaching two workshops emailed a few days before the conference with bad news: he was exposed to COVID-19 and, although vaccinated, he was in quarantine to avoid potentially spreading the infection. We canceled his workshops, although he graciously provided his materials to those who signed up for his workshops, and speakers still had five more to choose from during each period.

And, a few days before the conference, I received an email from John Hughes, Chief Historian for Washington State.

“I look forward to seeing you on Saturday, although I have deep reservations about setting foot in a county with such a large anti-vaccine cohort,” he wrote. “I am a cancer survivor, with a still compromised immune system.”

He requested that only those who had been vaccinated attend his “Shut Up and Listen!” Workshop. ”

We never want to compromise anyone’s health, so I emailed those who had registered for his workshop to ask those who are not vaccinated to select another workshop to attend.

We also had a few people who canceled because they had sinus issues and couldn’t see wearing a mask for two days. Believe me, I sympathize. In 1995, I was diagnosed with Samter’s triad (also known as aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease) – a chronic disease of asthma, nasal polyps, and allergy to aspirin. I’ve had five sinus surgeries – with a sixth scheduled for later this month – so wearing a mask for two solid days seemed intimidating. But it wasn’t impossible, especially when it meant doing my part to keep others safe. I just sweat a lot.

On Saturday morning, Mittge traveled to Winlock to pick up Roy Wilson, author of dozens of books on the Cowlitz Tribe, Prayer, and Mediation. He inspired the organization of the Writers ‘Criticism Group that met at Unity Church in Centralia, which spawned the Southwest Washington Writers’ Conference in 2014. We honored him for his services.

It was so much fun to meet up in person after more than 18 months in semi-isolation.

“Julie did an amazing job putting the whole show on,” Crowell said.

I was honored to receive a beautiful bouquet of red roses from writer Chehalis Joyce Scott, who showed up early Saturday to help us get settled, and a gift from my amazing team of volunteers: Sandy, Bill , Kyle, James, Debby and Amy. And presenter Mary Stone from Castle Rock won a raffle prize and gave it to me as a thank you.

I was honored and touched to help organize the conference, whose theme is: “We Are Inspired to Write and Write to Inspire!” “

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Julie McDonald, personal historian of Toledo, can be reached at [email protected]


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