Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Meet Cathy Day, Keynote Speaker for the 2016 Steel Pen Creative Writers' Conference

The Steel Pen Writers’ Conference Committee is please that Cathy Day has signed on as the Featured Speaker at this year’s event. It is always inspiring when a leader in the writing community shares their excitement. I had the honor of tapping into Cathy’s thoughts and ideas surrounding her creative process and commitment to the writing/reading community. I hope you enjoy what Cathy has to offer here, and you can hear her speak more on these subjects at the Steel Pen Writers’ Conference on November 12, 2016. Registration is ongoing and can be accessed through

Julie Demoff-Larson: The Steel Pen Conference hosts a wide variety of attendees in various states of their writing career. What benefits do you feel emerging writers can gain from conferences/workshops?
Cathy Day: The chance to feel like a “real writer” for the day. Once you experience this, you’ll want to do whatever you can to keep that feeling with you when you go home. It inspires you to commit to a writing regimen, to become part of a writing community, and to send your work out into the world.
JDL: What will you be offering at the Steel Pen Conference this year?
CD: I’ll be delivering the keynote address about a subject that’s near and dear to my heart: literary citizenship. So many people come to conferences looking for an answer to the question: “What’s the secret to getting published?” I think that the answer is to worry a whole lot less about your own needs and to make the world a better place for books in general. We’re living in a historical moment when more and more people want to be writers but bookstores are closing and publishers can’t make ends meet. If we devoted even a little bit of our energy to addressing this, we’d all be better off.
JDL: Tell us about the genre you write in. How do you go about gathering research? What inspires you to pursue a specific topic or plot-line? 
CD: Most of my fiction is based on truth. I call it fictional nonfiction. I’m usually inspired by Indiana subjects—the circus, the Colts, Cole Porter—and then I start reading and digging around. This phase of this process is about discovery. I don’t know what I’m looking for exactly, but some things just grab me. Then I ask myself why these things have traction. Usually, it’s because they touch on what really matters to me—as a human being and as a writer. I also look for what’s not there. Fiction is a great way to tell the untold story or to offer another explanation.  
JDL: What was the path that led you to novel writing? Or was novel writing a natural fit and where you first started? How has your writing voice, style, and method changed over time?
CD: Honestly, I don’t consider myself a novelist yet. My first book was a collection of linked stories, what some call a novel in stories. My second book was a memoir. The book I’m working on now is a novel—so if it gets published, then I’ll be a novelist! I was taught to write using the short story as a model (something I've written about at length), and I’ve figured out how to write a novel by teaching the subject, by studying a lot of novels, and (honestly) by watching great television series like Mad Men, Friday Night Lights, Breaking Bad, and The Wire—which have become the great social novels of our time.
JDL: What are you working on right now? What did you do to prepare for this work?
CD: About nine years ago, I thought I’d write a novel about Cole Porter. He and I share a hometown. I got a research grant to visit his archives at Yale and visit his homes in New York and Williamstown, MA. But I quickly realized that I was more interested in Linda, his wife. She had a fascinating life long before she met Cole. I know that “The Famous Cole Porter” is what will bring readers to my book and to my character, but I’m trying to minimize his presence so that the reader can really see Linda.
JDL: What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
CD: Nobody—no degree-granting institution, no teacher, no editor, no association—grants you the status of writer. You don’t need anyone’s permission to be a writer. You have to give yourself permission. It’s an almost completely internal “switch” that you have to turn on and (this is harder) keep on.
Cathy Day teaches the craft of fiction and creative nonfiction. She’s the author of The Circus in Winter, a novel-in-stories, and Comeback Season, a memoir. She’s been teaching creative writing for over 20 years, most recently at Ball State University. She speaks on topics related to her historical research and teaches literary citizenship (how to advocate for books and writers in the digital age). She maintains numerous blogs related to her interests, which enjoy approximately 75,000 unique visitors a year. You can find her website at

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sell Your Books and Your Services at the 2016 Steel Pen Creative Writers' Conference

As mentioned in last week’s post, this year the conference book fair will be hard to miss because it will be in the open near the registration desk. Something new this year is a bookstore, also prominently located near the registration desk. This gives you two ways to sell your books. It also preserves the book fair opportunity to sell your services and your organization.

You can take advantage of these opportunities at the 2016 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference. The date and location are Saturday, November 12, 2016, at the Radisson Star Plaza in Merrillville, Indiana.

The book fair will work much as it has in past years. Each table costs $20, and vendors do not have to pay for and attend the conference. This year they must, however, provide the names of all individuals who will be staffing the table. For those who are not registered for the conference, box lunches may be purchased at $20 each. All vendor applications and fees must be received by October 15. For additional terms and conditions, or to reserve a table, see the application at this link:

The bookstore is a new service this year and is available to all conference attendees and to all IWC members. The bookstore does not have storage facilities for inventory, however, so IWC members who do not attend the conference or who leave early must make arrangements to drop their books off in the morning and pick them up in the late afternoon. The bookstore will take a 15% consignment fee on each book sold. Authors using the bookstore also agree to pay the credit card fees if the purchaser uses a credit card. The bookstore will collect the sales taxes and remit them to the State of Indiana. All bookstore applications must be received by October 15 to give bookstore personnel time to enter the book information into the system. For additional terms and conditions, or to request consignment, see the application at this link:

If you are selling a service or an organization, the book fair is for you. But if you have books to sell, which option is better? Here is a checklist to help you decide.

Book Fair
I would rather attend the conference sessions than staff a table (check bookstore).
I get higher sales by promoting the book myself (check book fair).
I have books to sell, but I am also selling my services or promoting an opportunity (check book fair).
I don’t enjoy selling myself or my books (check bookstore).
I am an IWC member and can get my books to and from the conference but can’t attend myself (check bookstore).
I prefer the personal touch (check book fair).

To learn more and to register for the conference, visit the conference page on the Indiana Writers’ Consortium website at Also check out our Facebook page at


The photograph is from last year’s book fair.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Perfect Venue for the 2016 Steel Pen Creative Writers' Conference


This will be Steel Pen’s second year at the Radisson Star Plaza in Merrillville, Indiana. The venue received rave reviews last year, and it will be even better this year after making two small adjustments to the conference set-up (described below).

So why is the venue perfect? It starts with location, location, location. The complex is located in Merrillville, Indiana, on U.S. 30 just off of I-65, making it easy to reach from all directions.

Then there are the amenities for those who want to spend a little extra time in the area. The Radisson Star Plaza is a full-service hotel with a restaurant, a coffee shop, an indoor swimming pool, and a fitness center. If you are staying Saturday evening, you can buy tickets to see Buddy Guy at the Star Plaza Theater, enjoy the show at the Wisecracker Comedy Club, or listen to live music at T.J. Maloney's, Irish Pub, all without leaving the complex. There are dozens of restaurants nearby, and Chicago is only about an hour away.

The food, the service, and the rooms received high grades from last year’s conference goers. The only complaints about the facility involved the stairs and the location of the book fair. Both of those issues have been resolved for the 2016 conference.

Last year, conference activities were spread out over two floors. Although there is an elevator, some attendees would have preferred having everything on a single level. The book fair was given two rooms to itself in order to provide a dedicated area with plenty of space for exhibitors, but vendors complained that it was too out-of-the-way to attract business. This year everything will be on one floor and the bookfair will be in an open area near the registration desk. Since the Radisson books up quickly, we had to move the conference from October to November to accommodate these needs, but it was worth it. The Conference Committee is confident that we have the perfect set-up for 2016.

Unfortunately, 2016 will be Steel Pen’s last year at the Radisson Star Plaza. The facility is slated for demolition in the spring of 2017 so that the owners can build a more upscale hotel on the site. The Steel Pen Conference Committee will have to find another venue for next year, but you can be part of history by attending one of the last conferences at the landmark hotel that has brought tourism and conferences to Northwest Indiana for almost fifty years.  

We hope to see you there.


To learn more and to register for the conference, visit the conference page on the Indiana Writers’ Consortium website at Also check out our Facebook page at

The photographs show the Radisson Star Plaza, which is the location for the 2016 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Something for Everyone at the 2016 Steel Pen Creative Writers' Conference

As Tiffany mentioned in last week’s post, the Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference has something for everyone. The sessions cover all aspects of creative writing (fiction and non-fiction), from craft to publication to marketing. And the rooms are small and intimate, so you don’t get lost among the crowd in a large lecture hall. Beginner or advanced writer, all will benefit.

Do you enjoy the hands-on experience of a workshop? Try some of these:

·         “Lyrical Language: How to Make Your Prose Pop,” presented by Nichole Reber;

·         “Three Ways to Write First-Person Non-Fiction and Get Published,” also presented by Nichole Reber;

·         “Using Flash Fiction Techniques to Develop Character and Setting,” presented by Robyn Ryle;

·         “We Need to Talk: The Dos and Don’ts of Writing Effective Dialogue,” presented by Georgia Knapp;

·         “Creating Characters That Connect With Readers,” presented by Patricia Skalka; and

·         “Strategies for Cultivating a Poetics of Silence,” presented by Rebecca Macijeski, Sarah Fawn Montgomery, and Erin Bertram.

Even the lectures are interactive in the sense that the presenters welcome questions and comments. But if you just want to sit back and listen, you can. Better yet, take notes as you learn from the presenters in these sessions:

·         “A Big Thing is Made of Smaller Things: Writing a Novel-in-Stories,” presented by keynote speaker Cathy Day;

·         “Marketing Your Book; Life After Publication,” presented by Carla Lee Suson;

·         “Activating Memory Into Memoir,” presented by Marc Nieson; and

·         “The Editor-Author Relationship,” presented by Tiffany Cole.

Or maybe you want to benefit from the expertise of multiple individuals in a single session. If that’s the case, you can attend these panels:

·         “I Want to Get Published! Should I Go Traditional or Do It Myself?” moderated by Kathryn Page Camp with panelists James Dworkin, Joyce Hicks, Karen Kulinski, and Michael Poore; and

·         “Writing the Next Chapter,” with Patricia Skalka, Lynn Sloan, and Joyce Burns Zeiss.

Your biggest problem will be deciding which ones NOT to attend. Unfortunately, the schedule only allows for three sessions, and some of your favorites may conflict. But imagine how much you can get out of the ones you DO attend.

Whether you are a beginner or an advanced writer, the 2016 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference has something for everyone, and that includes you. So please join us on Saturday, November 12, at the Radisson Star Plaza in Merrillville, Indiana.

To learn more and to register for the conference, visit the conference page on the Indiana Writers’ Consortium website at Also check out our Facebook page at


The photograph shows a session on “Historic (Re)Tell” at least year’s conference. Note the intimate setting.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Make Powerful Connections at the 2016 Steel Pen Writers' Conference

Tiffany T. Cole
When I was in middle school and high school, I spent a lot of time vicariously living through multiple authors and writing books I would eventually hide in my closet. Every day, I would open a number of tabs and spend a few hours reading authors’ blog posts, especially if the authors’ posts allowed me to peek into their day-to-day lives as full-time writers. One such author whose blog had a huge impact on me was Neil Gaiman. I remember fondly when he talked about the conferences he’d attended when he started writing and the conferences he became a keynote speaker for when his career took off.
Neil Gaiman made it clear that conferences were not only lots of fun but vital, in a myriad of ways, to helping an author succeed. I dreamed of attending these conferences but, because I didn’t have the money or the means, conferences just seemed like another out of reach dream.
Last year, I finally attended two conferences—AWP, which was in Minneapolis, and the 2015 Steel Pen Writers’ Conference. Both were equally exciting, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Steel Pen—a smaller, local conference—had more of an immediate impact on my creative life. I expect that same impact will be prevalent November 12, 2016 at the Radisson Star Hotel in Merrillville, Indiana during this year’s Steel Pen Writers’ Conference.
Steel Pen, which is hosted by the Indiana Writers’ Consortium, is a one-day conference brimming with workshops, panels, manuscript critiques, and networking. There are so many opportunities for writers and poets in all stages of their career. You can sell your books at the bookstore or book fair, have lunch with keynote speaker Cathy Day and the other panelists and attendees, advertise your work in the pamphlet, and apply for a scholarship.
The panels have been carefully chosen to ensure there’s something for everyone. To give you an idea, here are just a few of the session topics:
Writing Effective Dialogue
Marketing Your Book
Getting Published
Working With Editors
Writing Nonfiction, Memoirs, Poetry, and Fiction
Last year, even with fewer options, I felt a genuine connection with the other writers and panelists in each room, something I suspect was because of its local nature. When I talked to others, shared my opinions in workshops, and exchanged information with those who wanted to help me as much as I wanted to help them, it just felt more substantial than it did when interacting with hundreds of people at AWP.
To this day, I can still turn to the authors I met at last year’s conference. I’d like to invite you to this year’s conference in the hopes that you will make as many connections as I have as well as take your career to the next level in the way that going to conferences should.
To learn more about the panels, the scholarships, the keynote speaker, the bookstore and book fair, and how to register, visit Be sure to keep an eye on the Facebook page as well (