2nd Annual When Words Collide a huge success
By Christopher Walsh
The best writing festival you’ve never heard of concluded Sunday and if the “buzz” is any indication, the secret may finally be out.
Organizers of the When Words Collide festival marked the end of the second annual literary celebration still trying to determine for themselves what the hell it had become.
“Well, we had desires,” said chief organizer Randy McCharles Sunday afternoon as the show was winding down.
The whole affair started last year as a celebration of science fiction and fantasy writing mixed with other genres including romance, mystery, paranormal, young adult and even children’s books for writers and book lovers – an expedient for every writer to get together and realize they have more in common than any perceived difference.
But what McCharles had on his hands Sunday afternoon was anyone’s guess. The weekend was chock full of panels and discussions; there were pitch sessions for members to publishers, there were public readings to industry pros of unsolicited works, there were seminars from publishing professionals and workshops, author readings and signings, group literary therapy; in short, something for everyone interested in good stories and the written word.
The biggest complaint floating around the hallways all weekend was that there were too many intriguing sessions to plan your day around.
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Whatever McCharles’ desires, by Sunday it was clear last year’s experiment was now a living, breathing whopping success. People from a wide cross-section of genres and literary endeavours had converged on the little festival at the Best Western Village Park Inn, so many in fact, that the halls were getting difficult to negotiate on the last afternoon. The hotel was booked solid and attendance was up 40 per cent from last year, resulting in certain enthusiasts being forced to crawl along the floor, in some cases, looking for a seat.
“The buzz got out through word of mouth,” said McCharles of the higher numbers. “Before last year, we were an unknown. We are not structured like any other festival or conference I know of. But people came and liked what they saw and told people.
“The buzz has all been very, very positive.”
Calgary resident and aspiring writer Karen Krulyk was taking a break from the sessions Saturday afternoon outside. She had attended the first When Words Collide festival last year and recognized right away the value of the festival.
“I brought friends this year – spreading the word,” she said with a laugh. “I think part of it in the science fiction community, is there’s a big sense of camaraderie and they welcome new people generously.”
Krulyk says she will be back next year after learning about writing and the publishing industry from the different professionals in the various sessions.
“And hopefully next year I’ll be doing a pitch,” she offered.
Dustin Karpovich was resting on his luggage in front of the hotel Sunday afternoon, waiting for his ride back to Wetaskiwin. The aspiring fantasy writer and science fiction fan had come to When Words Collide in part to meet acclaimed mystery writer Anthony Bidulka and also to learn how to improve his own writing. He ended up enjoying the booksellers’ tables as well.
“This is my first one,” he said. “I really liked it, but I bought so many books though. They should keep me going for the rest of the year.
“I’m definitely going next year. I had so much fun.”
Calgary-based author, Susan Toy, was at the festival promoting local authors in the booksellers’ room. While she attended last year’s inaugural When Words Collide festival, she said this year’s incarnation seemed to attract a more diverse range of writers and readers.
“It definitely benefits authors,” she said. “Just the fact they are being exposed to these people is great … They’re looking for books to read and maybe they’ll read books that are close to home.”
Even publishers were eager to get on board with the festival to spread awareness of their new and recent projects.
“[Last year] was an exciting event with the cross-pollination between the various genres and readers and people were excited,” said Frontenac House publishing representative Lyn Cadence at another table in the booksellers’ room. “It was something new and well-attended. So we stepped up our participation a little bit this year.”
All part of those “desires”, as McCharles put it, that are now being fulfilled. The number one desire was to get different genre writers and fans together. Then there was the desire to give them something all their own that celebrated genre writing – with the emphasis on writing.
But most of all, the deepest desire was to see When Words Collide gain credibility in the literary world.
“We didn’t know how interested literary people would be,” McCharles said. “And they were last year and even more this year.”
But even with that traction, McCharles says those desires were not completely fulfilled. Not yet, anyway.
“This year we were trying to get more literary content. We didn’t achieve our goal. We got some, but not enough,” he said. “We want more academic content, as well. Next year, we’re aiming for that and we’re also going really strong for mystery.”
And so the secret is out. Next year’s venue will be at the Carriage House Inn as the festival continues to grow, offering even more resources for writers and book lovers. As the little festival that was continues to grow, McCharles still sees some obstacles.
“Today there’s so much going on everywhere, it’s really hard to market anything,” he said, pointing out that a local writer he spoke with had still not heard of When Words Collide.
“It’s been hard to get the word out.”