OWFI Writers Conference 2023

OWFI Writers Conference 2023

The Pen & Keyboard Writers recently participated in OWFI Writers Conference 2023. The theme for this year’s conference was Out of the Box. The president of OWFI said that they were referring to both meanings of this phrase when planning for the conference: technology that works “out of the box” and thinking “out[side] of the box,” and I had fun applying these meanings to the different events within the conference. For instance, Casie Dodd at Belle Point Press gave a presentation, “Small Presses 101.” Dodd would very much like an author’s experience with her press to be “out of the box,” easy on the author while maximizing the success of her press. On the other end, in J Hall’s presentation, “Social Media Marketing (for people who never wanted to be marketers),” Hall encouraged his audience to think “out of the box” with their marketing and be more indirect and genuine instead of sales-y.

I was new to the OWFI Writers Conference this year, so I can’t say how outside the box the conference was, having little experience as to what’s usually in the box. The conference had four rooms of sessions presented simultaneously over the course of two days. The topics ranged from inspirational (“Unstuck Yourself”) to educational, and the educational topics covered subjects as varied as “Violence and Martial Arts in Fiction” to a session about dictation. Additionally, the conference included a book room where authors and presses could market their books (our 2022 anthology Celebrating the Seasons was on display) as well as two formal dinners.

My Brain is Stuffed, Let’s Eat

At the first dinner, Grady Hendrix gave the keynote presentation. Hendrix is the bestselling author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires amongst others. His speech was both humorous and uplifting. He encouraged us to play a drinking game: every time he made a mistake in his writing career… drink! What goes on at a conference stays at the conference, so I won’t say if anyone was hammered by the end of the speech, but let’s just say Hendrix admitted to a number of mistakes. At the heart of many of his mistakes was “toxic nostalgia,” when he tried to write about the past in a way that was a rose-colored view of that past instead of capturing the challenges of that time. His best successes have come when he could realistically portray a protagonist’s battles (even if he’s doing so humorously). What I loved about Hendrix’s presentation was how honestly he spoke of his difficulties getting his stories published and how he struggled to incorporate the well-intentioned feedback from his spouse, his editor, and his publisher. These were sentiments I’m sure everyone present could relate to.

At the second dinner, we learned the recipients of the OWFI Writing Contest Awards. We celebrated our members winning several awards:

  • Holly Jahangiri
    • Honorable Mention, Essay: “In an AI World, Are Human Writers Already Obsolete”
    • Third Place, Poetry: Unrhymed Short: “Tepid Coffee”
  • Joe Scavetti
    • Third Place, Prose Humor: “Late-Night Conversation”
  • Darlinda Hagens
    • Honorable Mention, Unpublished Romance Book: Fighting for Love and Heaven

Measuring the Conference Success, Personally

My as yet unpublished research book on happiness outlines the importance of meeting six basic needs (autonomy, physiology, safety, growth, social, and esteem) for long-term happiness and meeting expectations for short-term happiness. Writing a book on the subject, I can’t help but evaluate all my experiences against my happiness rubric, so to speak. I’m going to include you, dear reader, on this fun little activity for measuring the success of OWFI Writers Conference 2023.

Long-Term Happiness

We’re playing the long game with need fulfillment. The more we can fill the six needs over the course of our lives, the more satisfied and happy we feel overall. However, it’s great to get a boost meeting any of these needs with a short-term experience like a conference. I primarily look to conferences as a way to meet growth and social needs: the conference sessions should be educational, and everything in between should provide opportunities for networking. This was absolutely the case at this year’s Writers Conference.


The speakers at the conference covered a variety of topics, and, as a newbie to both the conference and to book publishing, almost all of the information being taught was new to me. I learned everything from what to consider for the design of the book cover to how to run promotions through book deals sites. The speakers provided me with a wealth of resources. Should I choose to do so, I can continue my research further post-conference.


Your social needs require that you not only make one-on-one connections but that you feel like you’re part of a community, too. This, honestly, is my favorite part of attending conferences. I love nerding out with people over a shared interest. Simply due to the fact that we’re all at this event because we enjoy writing and have goals to publish means that we’re all instantly friends. I can strike up a conversation with the stranger next to me as if we’ve known each other a lifetime. We’ll laugh together about $3 sodas or toilet leaks or that person who wins all the darn awards (good for her, but, also, share the wealth!).

Having those moments for connections, both casual and deep, are important. The conference organizers clearly understood this and built plenty of opportunities into the schedule. The conference sessions were spaced with 20-minute breaks, and the free time given for lunch and before dinner was ample. They scheduled break-out sessions so that groups could spontaneously gather over a shared topic of interest, and they provided a lobby with plenty of seating for conversations, planned or unplanned.

Remaining Four Needs

The other four needs were also met to a greater or lesser extent. Our autonomy needs demand that we feel some control in any given situation. Conference-goers could choose between four sessions or could choose to not attend and instead nap in their hotel room. The long breaks meant that I had time to fit a workout in, and the dinners had healthy options (physiology needs? Check!). The community is an encouraging one. I asked several dumb questions (because I’m so new to this!) and yet received thoughtful, supportive responses. Thus, my need for a safe environment was met. Finally, when every person seemed thrilled that I was there, my self-esteem received a happy little boost. Check, check, and check!

Short-Term Happiness

While a conference organizer can plan for how to meet their attendees’ varied needs, it’s a little harder to set expectations. Yes, they can publish information about the conference ahead of time, but a person’s expectations can be based on outside factors beyond the organizer’s control. For example, I spoke to one conference attendee who has been attending the OWFI Writers Conference for years. He stated disappointment that there were so many topics on the business side of writing. What he’d been looking for was more conversation about the art of writing. He had seen the schedule of sessions ahead of the conference, but his expectation was formed largely from past experience. I, on the other hand, was new to the conference. My only expectations (that I learn something and that I meet people) were based partly on the published schedule and partly on my own experiences with other types of conferences. Therefore, the meeting of expectations is more of a personal bar, unique to each person.

My expectations were on the low side of the spectrum. The conference easily exceeded them. Not only did I learn much, I was also inspired by some of the speakers to write and read more. On the social side, I met some lovely smart people. The connections were so tantalizing that I have extended several of them beyond the conference.


Based on the standards I use for evaluating the success of an event, the meeting of six needs of long-term happiness and the meeting of expectations, OWFI Writers Conference 2023 was a home run, well worth the time and money spent on it. I’m looking forward to spending the next year reaping the rewards from the conference. I plan to both put to good use the information I learned and savor the friendships gained.

Your author showing her excitement at being at OWFI Writers Conference 2023.

Celebrating the awards

Another of the Pen & Keyboard tables

Formal dinner time!

Dressed up and ready to celebrate the awards!

Celebrating All Seasons – Year ‘Round

Celebrating All Seasons – Year ‘Round

Every season brings with it changes—some good, some bad, some challenging to one’s sanity. Celebrating the Seasons is a lot like the change of seasons. Each of the stories has at least some of what you hope for in a specific season, like Joe Scavetti’s Tomorrow in the spring season, for example. On a grey day, the young male protagonist, feeling that, “All of his hopes, dreams and comforts . . . were flooding down the storm drains of Pensacola,” learns a life’s lesson in an unusual way.

In An Unexpected Summer Breeze, Darlinda Hagens leads us through mystery, murder and long-awaited love. What could be better in a summer of showers and sizzling heat? And speaking of sizzling heat, we can thank the autumn season and Carla Guthrie’s Autumn Walk story to cool down that heat and give us a renewed appreciation for how this change of season begins one of rest, something we all need but fight against. As Carla puts it, “Human nature perhaps abhors idleness.” Yet, idleness helps to prepare us for “The Gifts of Winter,” and Changing Roles by E.H. McEachern, where taking time to reminisce and learn about the past grants the opportunity for you, too, to feel a sense of piece envelop you “like a warm well-worn and loved blanket.”

Although you can read each poem and story from start to finish in the book, I find that skipping ahead and going back again, is more than satisfying; it’s also effective at helping me prepare for the day ahead. Sometimes, I even reread my own story, Waterfalls, where a lonely young woman and an enterprising neighbor conspire to bring love (and more) to the protagonist’s life. So, read a poem or a short story whenever time permits, and then you can enjoy the changing of the seasons at any time of the year.


Perspiring a Story

Perspiring a Story

After months of crazy weather we long for the predictability of summer. We welcome hot days, the outdoors and vacations. I wrote a story about summer in the Pen & Keyboard anthology, published in November, when fall was giving way to winter. I relived a memory of decades ago, when relatively footloose and fancy free, I spent a summer at day camp in an old Medici hunting lodge, cleverly disguised as a villa. Reading it is like biting into a ripe peach, the kind that is perfectly sweet and soft enough to hit the spot on a hot day. You don’t even mind the juice dripping down your arm.

That memory was my inspiration. However, before the story could reach maturity in my mind, I had to perspire. There were long frostbiting hours staring at the screen. The landscape of my mind seemed barren. I scrambled to search for an idea under the coat of insecurity of the blank document. The strong winds of impostor syndrome froze any thought that emerged above the seemingly infertile ground.  When all seemed lost and I was ready to succumb to resignation, green sprouts started to poke up here and there. Images and feelings pushed through the thawing soil. They clamored to be attended to. I watered them with words. I fed them from the spring of past experiences. They grew as I trellised them into shape. When they were strong enough to withstand a little more force, I pruned and pinched any unruly vines and the creative lymph coursed through the main stalk. The story bloomed and matured into the final fruit, an offering for your enjoyment.

Benefits of a Writers’ Group

Benefits of a Writers’ Group

What Are the Benefits of Joining a Writers’ Group?

I’m not much of a “joiner.” So why would I join not just one writers’ group, but three? Pens, people, and publication. One benefit of membership in a writing group like Pen & Keyboard Writers is the opportunity to write, contribute to, edit, and develop an anthology. Our 2023 anthology, Celebrating the Seasons, is also our first, but we had so much fun with the project that it definitely won’t be our last. The most important benefit, though, is the chance to work with some our fellow writers who complement our strength and weaknesses, and to learn from one another.


Writers write. Many of us have a ridiculous collection of pens, notebooks, blank books, blogs. We write. I told someone last week that I “think and talk through my fingers.” Communication of what’s in our imaginations into our readers’ imaginations is the goal; publication is icing on the cake. Publishing an anthology is one way to ice the cake.

Key to a successful anthology project is that the members work well together and roll up their shirtsleeves, setting egos aside, to do whatever is needed. Pen & Keyboard Writers worked effectively together as a team from deciding on a theme to editing, revising, and editing again.

We chose “seasons” as our theme. It was broad enough to encompass stories about climate, weather, seasonal change – but also seasons as a metaphor for the stages of life. Our group is based in Oklahoma; the group is an affiliate member of Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc (OWFI). As Oklahoma’s famous native son, Will Rogers, supposedly said, “If you don’t like our Oklahoma weather, just wait a couple of hours and we’ll have it changed. We’ve got every kind of weather there is.” Next, we began to write.

I contributed two poems: “Longing for Four” and “verbum sap sapienti est,” that serve as “bookends” to all the stories and poems in the book. Each poem deals with the transition of one season into the next, as well as the capricious human whims and changing moods reflected in Nature, itself.


Some groups are for novice writers and some are geared towards those with more experience. Others, like Pen & Keyboard Writers, have a healthy mix of writers who span decades of life experience and writing expertise. And we help each other because we want to, not because it’s an “assignment” to do so.

May be an image of 9 people


Early in the process of developing an anthology for publication, we traded our stories to ensure that each submission had at least two fresh pairs of eyes reviewing them and providing initial feedback from “scrap it and start over” to “almost perfect.” It’s essential to realize that every editor will have different corrections and suggestions, and it’s important to consider all of them objectively – not necessarily to incorporate every suggestion, but to consider the advice. Each edit represents a reader’s opinion, a writer’s edits, and feedback from a fellow group member who wants to see us succeed both individually and as a group. And we all want to be proud of the final product – our book.

Once each contributor made their initial revisions, I formatted the book and sent a first draft to the group for review. This time, everyone reviewed every page, providing not only edits to the stories and poems contained within the book, but also their opinions on the typeface and layout. There were several more rounds of edits, since with each pass, there’s a chance of introducing fresh errors or spotting little ones we’d previously missed – be that in typing or formatting of headers and footers, or pagination.

It’s critical that everyone set aside their egos and their inner crises of confidence. There is nothing but the work and our respect for, our trust in, each other. That means giving honest feedback to ensure that no one’s “slip” is showing. Honest feedback, and the ability to receive it, is vitally important prior to publication. After publication, it’s too late for changes – the book is in the hands of readers.


Few published books, including textbooks, are perfect. But that’s always the end goal, and I think we polished our anthology till it shines! We all hope readers will agree.

Flier – Feel Free to Share!

Flier – Benefits of Joining Pen and Keyboard Writers

Where Does It Start?

Where Does It Start?

When I pick up my copy of Pen and Keyboard’s “Celebrating the Seasons”, I marvel at the variety of views on life and the human condition in the poems and stories. Where do these ideas originate?

To me, the mind is a field of dandelions as it disperses multiple seeds. Each fluffy parachute is looking for a spot to land and produce a new source of joy. Grab at one of those thoughts and plant in your mind or scribble it in a notebook. Is it that lost soul from America you meet on a train ride in Australia? The odd couple seated on a bench in New York’s Union Square Park? Or the friend who sold all his art and worldly possessions to travel to India’s poorest regions to help?

Plant that small encounter in your mind and then let your imagination feed it. There may be other side shoots and you do some pruning till you have the strong central bloom of a story.

Curiosity improves your story after a thought seed is caught. My story, “50 Candles”, in the anthology started with a remembrance of a friend whose life has been devoted to helping displaced people in Asia. Since I have not been fortunate enough to visit there yet, I found a new world while researching that area.

So let your mind wander. Grab at words that float to you, unusual sights and strong smells and let your imagination run wild.

B.S. Adamsons
                                               Pen & Keyboard Writers