CREATIVE PEAKS: Warriors of the Pen

By on June 21, 2016

JH Writers Conference inspires new and seasoned scribes.

Nanci Turner Steveson’s book, Swing Sideways, reminds writers that getting published has a lot to do with perseverance.

Nanci Turner Steveson’s book, Swing Sideways, reminds writers that getting published has a lot to do with perseverance.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The yellow legal pad sat blank in Nanci Turner Steveson’s parents’ kitchen in Atlanta, Georgia.

All her life Steveson loved words. She closed Black Beauty after reading it the first time as a child and knew one day she would write her own book. She first fulfilled her own prophecy at 9 years old, but it wouldn’t be until she was in her late 50s when Steveson saw her first book published.

Swing Sideways by the now Jackson-based writer came out in May.

Steveson, a Jackson Hole Writers Conference board member, has attended the conference before. But at this year’s conference, which starts Thursday, she’ll sign her recently published book as well as teach a class on breaking into the children’s literature market.

On Thursday, more than 80 writers from around the country will spend several intense days honing their craft, critiquing work and accepting criticism of their own, and trying to network with agents, editors and other writers. People can still sign up for the full-conference or buy day passes, said Connie Wieneke, assistant director of Jackson Hole Writers.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the conference and craft workshops target a variety of genres from fiction and non-fiction to poetry to young adult and children.

Steveson writes books for children 8 to 12 years old, a nod to the time period during which she fell in love with books.

“That’s where you capture kids and their interest in reading,” she said.

If things had been different Steveson thinks she might have been a teacher, but life pulled her in a different direction. She married young and bypassed college. By her mid-20s she had a family and after a divorce, she raised her kids as a single mom. She knew she wanted to write and she kept at it when she could.

Then in 1996 she saw the legal pad and put her pen to the paper. Within a few years she was fully committed. She attended conferences and workshops. She threw herself into her work until an agent picked up her manuscript. But it didn’t sell.

In 2011 Steveson was taking care of her dad who was dying of cancer when she read Walk Two Moons. It inspired her to write again. It was something about that time in her life that resonated with her, she said. It captured loss without being maudlin. A year later she sent her agent the manuscript for Swing Sideways. Several revisions later, Harper Collins bought the book. It came out in May as Steveson was entering her late 50s. Her next book is set to publish May 3, 2017, and she’s already working on a third.

“It can take a while,” Steveson acknowledged. “You’ve got to be tough to make it work.”

Steveson developed that toughness by attending conferences. While the Jackson Hole Writers Conference is the only one she attends not specifically for children’s writers, it, and the other conferences, she saud, offered priceless learning opportunities.

She took every critique she could. She listened and absorbed feedback, avoiding getting defensive about her work. “Every writer, every editor, every person with more experience than you has something to offer,” she said.

The range of writers who attend the Jackson Hole Writers Conference make it valuable for established writers, as well as those trying to see their first book in print. More than half of this year’s participants have attended in previous years, Wieneke said.

The event attracts writers like Lynne Sharon Schwartz and editor Peter Hubbard, who edited American Sniper.

Gretel Ehrlich, author of about a dozen books, including The Solace of Open Spaces, will speak on climate change at the only public event. She’ll talk at 8 p.m. Thursday in the Center Theater. The free-event is co-sponsored by the Teton County Library.

But for most attendees the draw is the chance for manuscript critiques and also the access to agents, editors and other writers. “I think writers come because they like to be stimulated and around other writers,” Wieneke said. “I love being in a workshop where there is a writer I admire and I have access to that writer and can learn from them.” PJH

The Jackson Hole Writers Conference is Thursday through Saturday at the Center for the Arts. Full registration costs $395. Day rates are available.

For a full schedule and more information visit

About Kelsey Dayton

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