Friday, October 14, 2022


Writers' Conference Joy

 by Johnny D. Boggs

Today should find me at the Best Western Inn of the Ozarks for the annual Ozark Creative Writers conference in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Don’t ask why they keep inviting me back, but I know the reason I make that roughly 1,600-mile round trip every October.

You never stop learning the business, and there are worse places to be than the Ozark Mountains in the fall. 

OCW has been holding an annual conference for 55 years. I forget the year – it wasn’t 55 years ago – but the first time I went was as a keynote speaker. After which, board members asked me to join the board of directors. Pretty sneaky, but I accepted.

After two days of panels and presentations, I was also asked to hand out prizes to the winners of writing contests. Each year, the conference offers dozens of contests, paying prizes from $10 to $300, or certificates for honorable mentions. It would be a treat for the winners, I was informed, to get an award from me.

So there I stood with a certificate in my hand when the emcee announced that first finalist.

For 24 years, I’ve been writing professionally – full time, no real day job, no retirement, no inheritance. I haven’t written anything on spec for years. An editor, publisher or my agent reaches out to me, a deal is worked out, I deliver the manuscript, and deposit the check.

But around this time every year, when I had out money or a certificate and I smile and say, “Congratulations,” I remember.

The first professional byline I got came for a sports article in the Sumter (South Carolina) Daily Item the summer after I graduated from high school. That byline was my payment. Drove 65 miles roundtrip to buy some papers at a 7-Eleven, and when Daddy came home, I showed him the sports cover, pointed at the article. He sat down, read my first journalistic effort, and said, “Well, that’s interesting.”

Mama said: “Read who wrote it.”

“Oh.” Daddy saw my name. “I didn’t even look to see who wrote it.”

Wasn’t the last time something like that happened.

All that evening at my first OCW, and at every banquet night since, I recall sending short stories or short nonfiction articles on spec to magazine editors … trashing rejection letters … collecting my payment of two contributor’s copies … maybe depositing a check for five bucks. I remember the time a magazine offered me a hundred bucks for a short story, then folded before the story ever got published – or I got paid … signing that first book contract … and when I told my dad that I had given notice, was quitting the newspaper game, and moving to New Mexico to write full time. He said, “Well, I reckon you know what the hell you’re doing.”

I didn’t. Still don’t. 

But I love to see those faces on dads and grandmothers and lawyers and schoolteachers, retirees and even young kids who have that same dream, and are excited that someone liked his or her writing.

That’s why you’ll find me in Eureka Springs this weekend.

1 comment:

Charlotte Hinger said...

I'll never forget the thrill of the first check for a short story. It was published in Overdrive, a trucker's magazine. It was my first taste of fame. Among truckers, that is. But still.