The 31st Year of

April 14, 2018

“Rally is the warmest, longest-running conference in Michigan. Great speakers, great company, and pretty good cookies.”
Despite dire warnings of a spring snow-and-ice-pocalypse, A Rally of Writers #31 survived and thrived. Freezing rain didn’t appear in the Lansing area until late evening/early morning. That doesn’t mean the weather was pleasant or balmy or anything, however, but it was warm and cozy in the LCC West Campus Conference Center. It seemed like everyone who braved the weather had a good time, and I understand some of the sessions were outstanding. A huge thanks to the attendees who came and stuck with us, and to all the presenters who came bringing a large supply of  energy, enthusiasm and contagious good spirits! –Mark, Webmanager

2018 Recap

Terry Blackhawk, Keynote:

Poet, essayist, teacher, founder of InsideOut Literary Arts Project

Greg Baldino: Ethics in YA NF Books

Michael Byers: Short stories, novels – Percival’s Planet

Desiree Cooper: Journalist, flash-fiction novel – Know the Mother

Karen Dionne: Psychological suspense thrillers – The Marsh King’s Daughter

Colleen Gleason: Fantasy, historical, paranormal….

Lisa Grady: Screenwriting

Patrice Johnson: Creative NF book – The Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnson

Linda Peckham: The Clumping Theory

Lev Raphael: Writing Mysteries

John Smolens: Writing the Novel – Wolf’s Mouth

Alice Speilburg & Elana Roth Parker: Agents, First Page

Whitney Spotts: Book Promotion

David Stricklen: MG Books – Blackwater Pond series

Scroll down for Interviews with our 2018 presenters

See the speakers’ bios on the CONFERENCE page now!
Online registration now closed. PDF Brochures now available on the CONFERENCE page.


For news of writing events, seminars and conferences, check in at The Skaaldic Society website and click on the WRITING EVENTS tab. I will be making updates there as news comes in. For information about local Michigan writing groups click on the Skaalds LINKS tab.

For more information on writing groups, check out the Resources page here.


Rally Warm-Up
7:00pm Friday, April 13, 2018


Several Super Storytellers
In participation with WKAR
 © A Rally of Writers 2018


Q&A with Alice Speilburg

Alice Speilburg is an agent who has joined us at A Rally of Writers for several years. She has always brought attendees great insights into the world of publishing and tips on how to make it through the competitive field. She answered a few questions for us on her process. www.speilburgliterary.com

How has the publishing process for you as an agent changed since you started?

​In most ways, the process is very similar. I help an author polish a manuscript, I send it to editors I know who are looking for something like that, and we wait until we get a response that isn’t “No.” Perhaps one of the things that has changed is that the editors I know are at a higher level in their department. They have a little bit more authority to argue for a book than when I first started sending them projects five years ago. On the other hand, some of those editors are getting out of NYC, for one reason or another, and so they’re now agents or freelance editors. It’s fairly easy for an agent to work remotely. Most of us work for small businesses that are flexible. But editors often work for publicly traded companies that aren’t always as willing to let their employees work across the country. Until that changes, I think I’ll continue to see a steady stream of turnover as editors hone their skills in the city and then leave for a more flexible worklife.

What are the biggest things that writers need to do before submitting to you?

​Writers need to workshop their book, or send it out to beta readers to figure out how to make it even better than it already is. If I reject it once, I’m not likely to look at it 5 more times until it’s right. So skip the first five submissions, take that time to make it better, and then send me your final draft.

​They also need to have a sense of how their book fits into the market. What other books are similar? Where would their book be shelved at Schuler Books? What kind of people are going to read it? Knowing the answers to these questions will help writers pinpoint which literary agents and/or small presses to pitch, and will make the submission process a lot smoother.

With so many books coming out in a year, is it hard to get the eye of an agent or publisher, even if it is a spectacular story?

​Yes, it is difficult. Often a spectacular story is not enough. The book also has to have spectacular writing. We need to be both compelled by the story and by the way the it’s told. And of course, the book needs to be seen by the right people. You can minimize your number of rejections if you focus on people who are particularly drawn to stories like yours. Check the acknowledgements pages of similar books, read agent/editor interviews in publishing news sites, follow publication announcements in Publishers Weekly, which often lists the agent and the publisher of each book.

I think I ask you this every year. How important is platform for a writer? 

​I just read something from Jane Friedman (author marketing guru) that author platform can be explained in so many different ways, but it boils down to ​”visibility to your target audience—which translates into an ability to sell more books.” This is so important, to all published authors. It doesn’t always mean that you have to have thousands of followers on social media, but it does mean that you have to know your readers and know how to reach to them. Readers want to connect to authors. Authors who take no interest in their readers aren’t going to sell many books.

What are you looking for this year?

​This year, I’m looking for magic. I’ve recently read The Secret History of Witches and The Bear and the Nightingale, I ​love the way magic weaves its way into these historical novels. But we can’t dwell in fantasies all the time. I’m also looking for cultural narratives, microhistory, and pop science written by journalists and academics.

Andrea King Collier
Freelance Journalist and Author
For A Rally of Writers 2018
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Q&A with Karen Dionne

Karen Dionne is the queen of keeping readers on the edge of their seats. She is also another long time friend of Rally. She will be with us again this year, sharing wisdom from her very successful and prolific writing career. She agreed to sit down and answer some questions about her books and her work. www.karen-dionne.com (Photo credit: John Andresen/Juritzen Publishing)

Your books take us to places we don’t often (never) get to go. When it’s time to jump into a new book, where does that first gem of inspiration come from?

For me, each book is different. My early novels began with an idea for the plot–usually from something I read in the news–and then from there, I populated the novels with interesting characters faced with challenging situations. But for my newest novel, THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER, I actually woke up in the middle of the night with the first sentences of the novel fully formed in my head: “If I told you my mother’s name, you’d recognize it right away. My mother was famous, though she never wanted to be. Hers wasn’t the kind of fame anyone would wish for–Jaycee Dugard, Amanda Berry, Elizabeth Smart–that kind of thing, though my mother was none of them.” I wasn’t dreaming about the character, she was just there, talking to me. In the morning, I wrote up a few paragraphs in her voice which was essentially her telling me who she was, and those paragraphs are now the first page of the novel. So in this case, the story truly was inspired!

How common is it for you to start a book that you don’t finish? Do you have some books from the early days sitting in a desk drawer?

Q&A with Linda Peckham

As  a part of our series on speakers at this year’s A Rally of Writers, we got a chance to talk to Linda Peckham, the fearless leader of the committee that puts together the event. Here’s an opportunity to see all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.

What was it like to start and keep such a big undertaking going for all these years?

In 1987, we never dreamed we would be planning a writers’ conference 31 years later. To us five co-founders, it simply seemed like a good idea to hold a gathering with published writers here in mid-Michigan. We wanted a conference that was small enough and with sufficient breaks so people could talk to each other and the speakers. Our local community of writers soon encompassed the state, and then the Midwest. We now run with a maximum seat count of 200, and a few years ago, we were featured by Writer’s Digest Magazine as one of the three best writing conferences in the country.

What keeps people coming back?

I think Rally has such a big draw because of its organization and the caliber of the speakers. It is the warmest, best one-day conference in the state.

Q&A with Terry Blackhawk

Meet award-winning poet Terry Blackhawk. She is a long-time friend of A Rally of Writers and we are fortunate to have her join us again this year. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her work. www.terrymblackhawk.com

You are an award-winning poet. How do you describe the kind of poetry you write?

I guess the key word here is variety. Some of my poems are narrative and tell stories. Some poems come from meditations or pure imagination or memories. 

Others praise or mourn or question or protest or make fun.  I like to think that the poem takes me where it wants to go, and not the other way around. I experiment with form and line, enjoying the restrictions of form (sapphics, abecdarians, sestinas, for example) or what new meanings shake out as I jostle about (with spacing, indentation, dropped syllables, breaks) in the lines. 

Recently I’ve been writing in syllabics, using a nine- or seven-syllable line, and I’ve also tried my hand at prose poems, which may set me in new directions. One reviewer said of my book Escape Artist, which won the John Ciardi Prize, that I seemed to be escaping from form itself in the poems, which had not occurred to me. Writing poetry is a kind of escape, though, a way of taking me out of myself and discovering what I really think about something instead of what I may have told myself about it.

How do your poems come to you? And how do you know when you are done?

If some idea or event or memory is nagging and poking around in my subconscious, and keeps coming back, I’ll usually write about it.

Q&A with Lev Raphael

The perennially popular Lev Raphael has been a fixture at Rally for several years, always packing in a crowd. Catch some of his charm and enthusiasm in this interview. www.levraphael.com

You are a very prolific writer and you move between the different lines of writing work, fiction, nonfiction, blogging, essays. How do you juggle it all?

I’ve published books in about a dozen different genres because I’ve always read across genres, even when I was in elementary school and didn’t know the word “genre.”  My publication history and on-line work match my wide reading interests.  That being said, I could use a clone to work on books I’ve started and haven’t had a chance to finish or even take further.  I manage solo by not forcing myself to write every day, which might sound counter-intuitive, but having a set schedule would make me miserable.  I’m not the fastest writer, but I learned to revise and edit quickly and thoroughly in the many years I reviewed books for The Detroit Free Press, The Washington Post and other papers.  I’ve also learned over the years that work can always be improved, but you have to let it go at some point.  And working on more than one project at a time is relaxing because it gives me a break as I move between works-in-progress.

You teach a workshop about writing bad sex. It is hard to write good sex. Why is it so easy to write bad sex? Best sex writing advice?

I think several problems are at work for writers doing sex scenes.  They might be embarrassed.  Conversely, they might be too turned on… 

Q & A with Des Cooper

Des Cooper will be joining us for two sessions at our 31st year of A Rally of Writers. Past presenter Andrea King Collier is interviewing our presenters, asking them about their experiences in writing, publishing, and life in general. You can also read Des’s bio on the CONFERENCE page. www.descooper.com

Many people know you as a journalist. How did the short story collection Know the Mother come about?

I’ve never not wanted to be a creative writer. I got into journalism as a way to make a living as a writer, but it was never a life ambition for me. Through the years of carving out a career and raising a family, I continued to write stories and meet with other creative writers to learn and grow. This collection was 20 years in the making, the result of my continued pushing to write whenever I could. My process is very much reflected in the theme of the book: How women fight to self-actualize beneath the often-crushing mantle of “mother.”

The cover of your book is extraordinary. Tell us about that process. 

I am so proud of the cover, and of Wayne State University Press for making it happen. I really wanted the work of an African American Detroit artist to be on my cover…. 

Q&A with John Smolens

John Smolens will be presenting a session on writing a novel: “An act of faith, hope and stupidity: why we writing novels anyway.” We concur. It is a mystery, and we do it anyway. A short bio of John is on the CONFERENCE page. www.johnsmolens.com

How did you find your genre as a novelist? Did you experiment with others?

I like to think that I don’t work in “my genre”—or any genre, for that matter.  The notion seems confining to me.  Recently you see some novels described as “genre-bending”—something like that.  I think most novels have been doing that for a long, long time.  Crime and Punishment might be considered a “murder mystery.”  But definitely not a “British cozy.”

That being said…