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.
What’s the draw of an in person conference when webinars are so readily available?
We know we draw people because we provide a warm space for old writer friends and a safe space for newbies. Then we add workshops by speakers who offer great practical information and discussions that bring great inspiration. You cannot sit with coffee and cookies online.
So, A Rally of Writers is a team effort?
Yes, yes, yes! Rally has been a team effort from the beginning. It took five of us in the beginning, with different expertise, to arrange speakers and Authors’ Alley, handle publicity and grants, and deal with conference space. Now that everything is simpler with computers, it takes 12 of us to put on the conference and run the business of a non-profit corporation.
The team does such a great job of bringing in top notch speakers. How does this come together?
In August each year, when the Rally Committee meets for the next conference, the first thing we do is determine the workshop leaders and a keynoter. We want leaders who have strong publications in their field and are “teachers” at heart. Nurturers. And we look for a wide range of speakers to cover the art and craft of writing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, children, screenwriting, and marketing.
I bring potential names I’ve collected from the Evaluations, former speakers, writing professors, community members, and my own involvement in writer things. Others add names, and we decide who to invite on the first round, the next round. That circular process goes on for two or three months.
You attract people who have been coming for years, but is it a cross-generational event?
And will young writers fit in? Yes.. The people who attend range in age from 15 to 90. It’s our biggest challenge, but age is less of a determinate of the program than genre interest. We know that every area of writing has its own conference, so we try to offer something great for each person. Unfortunately, we can’t offer everything every year.
Will you be doing a session this year?
Yes, I’m doing a session again this year. As many of you know, at LCC I taught dozens of courses in freelance writing, covering everything from confusing words to a system for restructuring a novel. This year, I’m going back to one of my hobby-horses: the useless way people have taught the “grammar” of the sentence for over 100 years. In “The Clumping Theory,” I’ll show writers how to understand sentence style and punctuation – without rules.
What do you and the team hope writers who attend this year will walk away with?
I hope people will walk away from my session relieved that they can trust their head sense for style and punctuation, and have simple examples for when they don’t.