On September 8 and 9, regional authors and aspiring writers will gather at Centralia College for the 9th annual Southwest Washington Writers Conference. The conference offers authors and authors-to-be the opportunity to hone their skills, learn the ins and outs of publishing and marketing, network with other writers, and come away both equipped and inspired.

Southwest Washington Writers Conference
The Southwest Washington Writers Conference offers opportunities for writers to connect and share over lunch. Photo credit: Julie Zander

The Southwest Washington Writers Conference 

The Southwest Washington Writers Conference began back in 2014 when a writers’ group from Centralia decided in May to hold a conference in September. “That’s not exactly the brightest idea,” said conference president and local history writer Julie McDonald Zander. “But we managed to pull off the first successful conference that year with keynote speaker Robert Dugoni.” 

The conference raised money for the Lewis County Literacy Council that year, and in subsequent conferences, proceeds benefited the Lewis County Historical Museum, the Veteran’s Memorial Museum, the Centralia Fox Theater, and the Centralia College Foundation.

From 2018 to 2020, the Lewis County Writers Guild organized the conference, expanding the event to include a Friday master class in addition to the Saturday keynote session and workshops. Zander and a group of volunteers resumed leadership of the conference in 2021.  

Keynote Speaker Elizabeth Goddard

This year’s two-day conference features keynote speaker Elizabeth Goddard, a romantic suspense writer. “Every year, our volunteer team looks for an inspirational author to keynote the conference, and this year we didn’t need to look far,” said Zander.

Goddard is a USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of nearly 60 novels who has sold 1.5 million copies of her books. Although originally from Texas, she and her husband Dan moved to Centralia in 2021, where Dan currently serves as pastor of The Potter’s House Open Bible Church

“We love the Pacific Northwest,” she told Zander during an interview. Dan lived in the Seattle area as a kid, and Goddard fell in love with Seattle in her early twenties when she was traveling for her corporate America job. “Being a Texas girl, I remember the first time I got in my rental car, and I’m driving around, looking at Christmas trees everywhere,” she laughed. They have been trying to get this way for decades. Now Lewis County is home.

A winner of the Carold Award and Reader’s Choice Award and a finalist for the Daphne du Maurier and HOLD Medallion Award, Goddard has quite the whirlwind romance story herself. She met her husband in a small church home group. He proposed five weeks after they started dating, and they married only four or five months after meeting. Thirty-four years and four children later, they’re still in love.

As a romance writer, she’s fielded comments from people who say the couples in her novels married too quickly. She simply looks at her life.

“You know, it totally can happen,” she said.

Goddard averages three or more books a year. She also enjoys teaching and inspiring other writers–something she looks forward to doing at this year’s conference. She’ll present the keynote address, “Long Story Short: My Journey to Publishing Success,” and will also teach two of Saturday’s workshops. 

Southwest Washington Writers Conference Friday Master Classes

This year’s Friday master classes will be taught by two Willamette Valley writers–Valerie Ihsan and Melissa Hart. 

In the morning, Ihsan will teach “Transform Your Manuscript from Boring to Bad*ss.” Her class offers hands-on practical advice for both fiction and non-fiction writers. She’ll help writers diagnose their work to identify exactly what to address in revision, bringing their manuscripts from Meh to Magnificent. Ihsan, a story analyst and book coach, is the winner of a B.R.A.G. Medallion for Top Indie (Independent)-Published Books.

That afternoon, Hart will guide participants through published personal essays to learn what editors seek in submissions. Her class, “Build Your Platform & Earn a Paycheck: How to Write Personal Essays for Magazines and Newspapers,” comes from her own experience. Hart’s articles and essays have appeared in Smithsonian, CNN, The New York Times, and many other publications.  

Southwest Washington Writers Conference
Held at the Walton Science Center, Saturday’s conference includes a bookstore featuring books written by conferees and guest speakers. Photo credit: Julie Zander

Southwest Washington Writers Conference Saturday Workshops

Saturday’s line-up includes the keynote address by Elizabeth Goddard, followed by a presentation by literary agent Scott Eagan who will reveal “What Agents are REALLY Looking For.” After that, participants can choose from a wide selection of workshops led by experienced writers from the Pacific Northwest. 

New this year, Eric Schwartz, editor for the Chronicle, and Krysta Carper, editor and publisher for LewisTalk and NorthAmericaTalk, will be available to meet with participants interested in writing for local media.  

On both days, Book ‘N’ Brush from Chehalis will run the conference bookstore featuring titles from our presenters, conferees, and expert writers. Lunch is being provided by Dawn’s Delectables in Centralia and is included in the registration cost. 

The Southwest Washington Writers Conference is a nonprofit organization run by volunteers. All proceeds benefit the Centralia College Foundation for scholarships. For more information or to register for one or both days, go online here.  

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