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6 Phoenix-area writers share insights from Desert Nights, Rising Stars 2014

Renee Rivers and Susan Pohlman attended the 2014 Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University Feb. 20–22.
Renee Rivers and Susan Pohlman attended the 2014 Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University Feb. 20–22.
Kevin S. Moul

On Feb. 20–22, aspiring writers covering all genres converged on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University for the annual Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference presented by the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. They interacted with such professional presenters as Ron Carlson, author of ten books of fiction, including his newest novel, “Return to Oakpine;” Dana Stabenow, whose 30th novel, “Silk and Song,” came out in February 2013; and Deborah J. Ledford, whose latest novel is “Crescendo,” the third in her Steven Hawk/Inola Walela thriller series.

Among the Phoenix-area writers present were Renee Rivers, Susan Pohlman, Patricia L. Brooks, Cindi Reiss, Bill Lace and Robin Kramme.

Rivers is a mother, writer, traveler, wife, thyroid cancer survivor and writing instructor. She can be found behind a camera or an acetylene torch, spending a day with a legislator or at the farmers’ market, with her nose in a guidebook mapping an adventure or responding to student writing. Her publishing credits include stories in The Arizona Republic, Raising Arizona Kids, Canyon Voices and PBS Filmmaker Jillian Robinson’s “Change Your Life Through Travel.” She has a forthcoming literary memoir about her search for identity and adventure while living in remote Alaskan villages, where she says she “chased grizzly bears and ran from grizzly men.”

Scottsdale-based Pohlman is a freelance writer, writing instructor/coach and Transformational Travel Retreat leader whose essays have appeared in Family Digest, Raising Arizona Kids, Guideposts Magazine, The Washington Times and other publications. Her book “Halfway to Each Other” tells her own true story of how she and her husband revived their marriage while spending a year in Italy with their family. In addition, Pohlman has written five short films, two of which won best screenplay awards in the Baltimore 48 Hour Film Project: “The Misadventures of Matilda Mench” in 2010 and “The Pen” in 2011. An expert in relocating, Pohlman grew up on New Jersey and has lived in Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, California, Italy and Arizona.

President/founder of the Scottsdale Society of Women Writers, a group she has built to number 75, and also of Brooks Goldmann Publishing Company, LLC, Brooks is the author of “Gifts of Sisterhood,” which she wrote as a remembrance of the sister she lost to lung cancer, and holds a master’s degree in organizational management. In addition to speaking on the topics of marketing and management, she also conducts workshops on overcoming grief. Brooks plans to publish her second nonfiction book, entitled “Captive No More,” in 2014.

Reiss serves as an adjudicator for the ariZoni Theatre Awards of Excellence, is a past president of the Phoenix Writers Club and has written for as the Phoenix Travel Examiner. She has published feature articles in local newspapers and magazines and was a contributing author for “The Wall,” the children’s book the Phoenix Writers Club compiled during its 80th-anniversary year. She also enjoys writing poetry and short stories for children and adults. Prior to turning to writing, Reiss was an actor in theater and films, handled casting for movies and commercials and worked in various production jobs for several independent features. She also taught the art of clowning and creative drama. In 2005 Reiss and fellow writer Rita Ackerman started Writers’ Inspiration Group, which meets weekly to help writers hone their craft.

Active in promoting sensible immigration reform, Lace became a proud Arizonan when he moved to the state in 1992. He is the author of “Tears of Esperanza: A Novel of Fury and Passion in Arizona,” which placed second in the published fiction category of the Arizona Authors Association’s 2013 Arizona Literary Contest. The debut novel takes a look at what the fight over immigration and border control policy in Arizona is like, from the streets of the barrios to the halls of the capitol. When not working as a federal law enforcement special agent, Lace enjoys writing, traveling and spending time with his family.

Kramme is a graduate of Cornell University, where she studied industrial and labor relations and where she says she “found out the acronym ILR stood for I Love Reading.” After what she terms “a long and exhausting career in the hotel industry,” the creative side of her brain kicked in and she discovered an equally strong love for writing. Her short plays, “Bad Travel” and Vaculux 4000,” were selected by the Arizona Women’s Theatre Company’s Pandora Festival of New Works during two consecutive contest years.

To see what these writers learned at the conference, click “View 6 photos.”

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Renee Rivers
Renee Rivers Wayne Rivers

Renee Rivers

As a writer and instructor, I learn something exciting and useful each year at Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference.

Agents Lauren Abramo, Allison Moore and Beth Staples led conversations on publishing trends. They urged writers to “let agents know as soon as possible if your work has been accepted elsewhere.” For impatient writers they recommended waiting a couple of months before contacting an agent about your submission.

Michael Schiffer’s dramatic action class, “Keeping Your Foot on the Gas Pedal,” was both informative and engaging and not just because Schiffer wrote for movies starring Sean Penn and Morgan Freeman.

Authors Lisa Zeidner and Tayari Jones and Michael Stackpole spoke about how to sustain momentum while working on a longer project. Jones: “I set up my coffeepot and typewriter (yup!) the night before.” Zeidner: “I end with a cliffhanger so I know where to start.” I especially enjoyed this insight, because I’m starting my second book!

DNRS is a great conference for beginning and experienced writers to engage with the greater writing community.

Susan Pohlman
Susan Pohlman Kristin McDade Photography

Susan Pohlman

I found the ASU Desert Nights, Rising Stars conference to be a veritable literary oasis. Spending three days examining craft, discussing writerly concerns with new and old friends, and listening to accomplished novelists and poets read their work was the creative boost I sorely needed.

Attending thought-provoking presentations by such pros as Ron Carlson, Michael Schiffer, Bill Konigsberg and Jay Boyer provided new perspectives and practical advice on structure, point of view and character development. Beckian Fritz Goldberg introduced me to the vivid imagery and narrative voice of contemporary poetry. Her workshop on the use of color in storytelling was particularly thought-provoking.

Most importantly, however, was the refreshing experience of gathering with those who share a passion for words and the power of story. It had been a long time since I had treated myself to a writers conference. I won't make that mistake again!

Patricia L. Brooks
Patricia L. Brooks Diane Graham Photography

Patricia L. Brooks

My attending the DNRS conference last weekend was a gift to myself, and my second time at this event. The staff, volunteers, speakers and other writers did not disappoint.

I was inspired by Jem Poster’s view of the world through nature by asking us to not strike all the adjectives, D.T. Max’s tender portrait in biography by showing us his subject wrote against something and it worked for him, and Aurelie Sheehan’s support of the writing community in Arizona by telling us she listens to her students. Xu Xi’s love of memoir/nonfiction came to life when she asked us to preserve the stories and not just write them. G. Pascal Zachery suggested we find balance in nonfiction with facts vs. insights. I was motivated by Ron Carlson’s tips on listening to characters versus instructing them. Michael Schiffer’s techniques on doing story logic in obstacle study and not being lazy with research moved me forward. I learned more about editing from Jessica McCann with her self-editing proposition to see the big picture, fine-tune and get down to the nitty-gritty. Beckian Goldberg gave me joy with her activity on using colors in our writing of prose and poetry. Jim Natal took us deeper with his ideas on 10 ways for writing the family poem.

I purchased Natal’s book of poems and Max’s biography. I could have bought a dozen books. The quality of the work offered was incredible, and the willingness to share experience and knowledge by the speakers was exceptional. I will be back next year.

Cindi Reiss
Cindi Reiss Joshua Reiss

Cindi Reiss

Once again the ASU conference surpassed my expectations. I especially appreciated the workshops with authors and editors in the middle grade and young adult fields. The information provided was current, inspiring and valuable. All of the speakers were extremely approachable and offered advice, encouragement and answers to my specific questions. My poetic inclinations were fueled in the poetry workshops, and listening to the works of the poets was moving. Hearing the backgrounds of the presenters as they struggled to become successful in their genre and what they did to get there was most helpful. I left the conference with a renewed dedication to my craft and the inspiration to continue moving forward.

Bill Lace
Bill Lace Bill Lace

Bill Lace

This was my first time to attend the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference at ASU. It was an interesting contrast to the San Diego State University writers conference I attended a few years ago. The ASU conference featured more writers, especially ones with academic credentials, than the SDSU conference, which featured many editors and agents. I attended primarily science fiction and general fiction sessions, of which there were plenty to chose from. A panel discussion on science fiction had three prolific writers who not only had hundreds of books published but also had authored screenplays of well-known movies. One of my favorite sessions dealt with rethinking fictional gestures and being more creative and purposeful in what is unsaid. Overall it was a beneficial and busy two days of listening, engaging and sharing to and with a wide variety of writers.

Robin Kramme
Robin Kramme Diane Graham Photography

Robin Kramme

I have attended the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference for five years, and for me, 2014 was the best ever! I’ve consistently enjoyed this event, but this year the stars were truly aligned. I am at a place in my writing journey where all of the subject matter made sense. I appreciated the opinions of the talented faculty but am able to balance their knowledge with my own personal experience. Experts share their expertise, but the value of the individual is also celebrated at this conference: write what you know, write in your voice, write the way that is right for you. This year had the additional benefit of more sessions concerning playwriting and screenwriting. It was a delight to be immersed in a community of writers for 2 ½ days and come away with both validation and inspiration.