Highlands Writer’s Conference gathers professional writers


Ashley Hall

Dr. Daniel Black gives pointers about fiction writing to attendees of his panel. Black said it’s good to finish a writing project, even if it’s bad. “You have to know what your crap looks like,” he said.

Ashley Hall, Editor-in-Chief

From left to right, published authors John Hartness, Jeff Strand and Bobby Nash speak at the Writer’s Conference Publishing Panel, hosted by GHC English professor Danny Bellinger. The speakers gave advice based on their own experiences with writing and publishing books to attendees. “Write the book you want to write,” Hartness told attendees. (Photo by Ashley Hall)

Aspiring writers from all walks of life attended the fifth annual Highlands Writer’s Conference that was held on March 12 in the GHC Cartersville campus student center. Freezing weather and the recent rise in gas prices expected turnout to be low, but in-person and Zoom attendance formats were able to accommodate 45 attendees. 

The conference is a one-day program that brings together accredited authors, podcasters and screenwriters to hold sessions for writers of various genres to hone their craft and get a taste of what life as a career writer is like. It is sponsored by GHC and the Interim Dean of Humanities, Jessica Lindberg, reprised her role as the event coordinator.

Fiction writers Dr. Daniel Black and William Walsh, screenwriter Joshua Russell, poet Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor and former journalist Hank Klibanoff were among the speakers that held informative sessions on varying writing techniques.

“It’s a spirited group here and I think it’ll happen again,” Klibanoff said.

Free copies of books about minorities and their struggles were laid out for attendees of the Writer’s Conference to help themselves. They were provided by GHC clubs Brother2Brother as well as others. (Photo by Ashley Hall)

Creative writing is an art that many people take passion in doing, and for some, such as author and play writer John M. Williams, it’s a way of life.

“You have to have something to do in life,” Williams said. “Something to get up in the morning and do and that’s what I get up in the morning and do and I have for most of my life.”

Williams started mentoring in the MFA (Master of Fine Arts) program at Reinhardt University in 2015 after he retired from LaGrange College, where he was an English professor. His published books include the novel “Lake Moon” and non-fiction book “Atlanta Pop in the ‘50s, ‘60s & ‘70s: The Magic of Bill Lowry.”

“Writing I love and I don’t ever want to get to where I don’t love it because then I don’t know what I’d do,” Williams said. “I don’t have a plan B. That’s the only one I got.”

Klibanoff, who currently teaches at Emory University, said the pursuit of clarity in writing is what he said drives him to write.

During his fiction panel, published author and Writer’s Conference speaker Dr. Daniel Black read an excerpt from his newest novel “Don’t Cry For Me.” (Photo by Ashley Hall)

“I do make the point that the research and the reporting is essential,” Klibanoff said. “And really the most important part of it because… what good is a story that’s all wrong?”       

Klibanoff has amassed 36 years of journalism experience at The Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History alongside Gene Roberts for their book “The Race Beat.”

A strong passion for writing isn’t all it takes to make it in the world of professional writing, however. Writing is a business with product marketing, promotion and financing. The conference included a publishing panel with urban fantasy author John G. Hartness, horror/comedy author Jeff Strand and pulp fiction author Bobby Nash as speakers.

“Publishing is purely a business,” Hartness said. “I want to give people a realistic impression of what life as a writer is. I want them to know that you’re not going to get rich off one book. It’s a job.” 

Hartness drives home the point that writing is hard work. “But it is rewarding, it is hugely creatively fulfilling,” Hartness said.

Hartness also dabbles in sci-fi, rural urban fantasy and thrillers. He runs his own writer’s conference, SAGA, which is “tailored to genre fiction writers.” It will next take place in March 2023 in Winston-Salem, NC. His books are available on the Falstaff Books website. 

Other than helping writers learn more about their preferred writing style, the Highlands Writer’s Conference also gives attendees the opportunity to explore other styles of writing they may not have touched upon before.  

GHC students April Cole (left) and Katie Weatherford (right) listen to the speakers at the Publisher’s Panel. (Photo by Ashley Hall)

April Cole, a GHC biochemistry major and an editor of the Old Red Kimono, prefers non-fiction narrative writing. However, she said that Russell’s screenwriting class was her favorite.

“I’ve never even thought about screenwriting before,” Cole said. “I think that me being exposed to several different writers is always going to make me a better writer because I’m always going to be expanding my perception.”

Getting out of one’s comfort zone may present some unexpected opportunities. 

“You can do a lot at home, but more good things happen when you get out and move around…” Williams said. “And I think that’s very important for writers and artists in general to connect.” 

“I think it’s cool that GHC even threw a conference like this,” Cole said. “So it really exposes students to the fields that they’re going into and I think that’s important.” 

Featured speaker Hank Klibanoff walks attendees through his findings of the Isiah Nixon cold case, which he covers in his podcast “Buried Truths.” (Photo by Ashley Hall)

The writer’s conference is meant to teach attendees something they may not have already known and broaden their horizons. 

“I think anyone who goes to a conference like this just comes away with one or two moments of enlightenment,” Klibanoff said.

The Highlands Writer’s Conference will return in 2023 to give writers another chance to pick the brains of career authors and mingle amongst each other.