Interview: Meet a Few HippoCamp 2015 Speakers — A Mash-up Interview

Compiled by Donna Talarico

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To get ready for our inaugural creative nonfiction conference, HippoCamp (happening Aug. 7-9, 2015 in Lancaster, Pa.), we did Q&As with some of our presenters for the conference website. Here, at Hippocampus Magazine, we put together a mash-up of a few of those mini-interviews.

Meet Allison Williams, Wendy Fontaine, Monique Antonette Lewis, Nicole Frail, and Amy B. Scher–and learn about what they’re bringing–and planning to take away–from the writing conference!


allison williams in front of bookshelfAllison Williams has double duty at HippoCamp 2015. She’s presenting a break-out session called “How to Get Published in Literary Magazines”, and she’s hosting an add-on pre-conference workshop, “How to Save $500 on Your Next Edit.” So, basically, Allison is here to help you get polished AND published. Coming from Dubai, she also wins the award for most miles logged to get to Lancaster, Pa.


wendy-fontaineWendy Fontaine is traveling from one coast to the other for HippoCamp (well, almost: Pennsylvania is a landlocked state, but we’re not far from the Atlantic!), and aside from California sunshine the writer-slash-journalism professor is bringing along knowledge about the fallacies of memory and how we can use what we forget in our memoirs. We named our journal after a part of the brain, so we’re intrigued by her session!

Monique LewisMonique Antonette Lewis knows a thing or two about building a community of writers. Her At the Inkwell series in New York is quite the success, and it soon will expand to other cities. She’s excited about sharing her experiences with attendees as part of our literary citizenship panel.


nicole-frail-smallerNicole Frail, an editor at Skyhorse Publishing, will be part of two HippoCamp events: the Agents & Editors Panel and a post-conference Query Workshop. We learned something really cool, too: we hadn’t known a Lancaster-based cookbook was forthcoming from Skyhorse!

amy-scherAmy B. Scher isn’t afraid — and she doesn’t think you should be either. That’s why she’s part of our LIVE track, leading a session called “Releasing the Fears that Block the Best Work of Your Life.” Amy also is part of our “How I Got Published” debut authors panel; her book How to Heal Yourself When No One Else Can: A Total Self-Healing Approach for Mind, Body and Spirit is forthcoming.

Hippocampus: We don’t want to give too much away about your session, workshop or panel, but please share with us a golden nugget that you hope attendees will take away from your talk that isn’t found on the program description.

Allison: More than half of the authors who contact me are wrong about what they need. Sure, I could “proofread” a manuscript that actually needs a major structural revision and a developmental edit, but it’s ripping off the writer to sell them something they don’t need and that won’t lead to a finished, polished manuscript. One of the things we’ll talk about in the workshop is what the different types of editing are, and how to figure out which one you need. We’ll also talk about building relationships with ‘writer buddies’, and how the first feedback a writer needs is free.

Wendy: I hope that attendees take away the notion that there is a lot of narrative significance in the things we misremember. The neuroscience of memory is fascinating! A little understanding of why we remember and how we remember can provide a lot of freedom for getting our prose down on paper.

Nicole: Nicole: Presentation matters. Personally, a proposal is more attractive to me if it’s organized and complete with everything from chapter summaries to comp titles. Making my job easier helps you win points.

Amy: A greater sense of confidence. My session will help you get out there and take risks and express yourself even if (ok, when! Because it’s going to happen no matter what) others don’t love or accept all your work.

Tell us who would benefit most from your workshop or session and why.

Allison: If you’re getting rejection after rejection, all form letters, few or no encouraging personal notes, you need an editor. Someone who doesn’t love you and will tell you the truth. But that’s scary as hell! So this workshop will benefit authors who are intimidated by the process of finding an editor, determining if that editor is a good fit, and spending the right amount of time and money on an edit. If you know something’s wrong with your work, but you can’t figure out what that is, and you just want a damn prescription already – this workshop is for you.

Wendy: When I first started writing memoir, I was upset by how much I couldn’t remember, partly because of traumatic experience. The person who would benefit most from my session is someone who is writing about a significant event but struggling with details that are murky due to trauma, illness, blocking and other so-called fallacies of memory.

Monique: If you are feeling lost and don’t know where to begin to meet other writers, I will discuss how to get started creating a reading series/writing community in your neighborhood. Connecting with other writers is easier than it seems, no matter where you live.

Nicole: Debut authors who aren’t sure how to construct a query or proposal meant for a publishing house will definitely benefit, as well as those looking for agents. Magazine writers may also pick up a few pointers.

Amy: Anyone whose fears consume more of their time and energy than their writing practice does.

What is your best advice for attending a writing conference, whether it’s for newbies or veterans?

Allison: Don’t be afraid to sit down at a table of people you don’t know and say hi. I am totally that person in the corner thinking I will just read my book and not feel like a social idiot, but I am so grateful every time someone sits with me and starts a conversation. This conference, I’m going to pick up my continental breakfast and march myself over to at least two tables of writers I’ve never met.

Wendy: I’ve been going to writing conferences since the fourth grade, but this is my first time as a featured speaker. The best times I’ve had were the ones where I decided to take fewer notes and meet more people. So I’m looking forward to meeting lots of writers and hearing about their work.

Monique: Network, network, network. It feels awkward to go up to someone you don’t know, but you can break that icy feeling with a warm smile and introducing yourself. Ask the person where they are traveling from and if they’re enjoying the conference. Which session are they excited to attend and why? The conversation will naturally progress from there. Don’t forget to exchange contact information before you part ways. You never know who knows someone and how that person may be a resource for you in your writing/publishing career.

Nicole: Be social! Even though you should have your elevator pitch ready, you should also be prepared to talk about yourself on a personal level and show interest in other people’s work and interests.

Amy: Be open-minded. Go to sessions that maybe you normally wouldn’t. This often sparks new ideas, allows fresh energy to flow, and helps you meet people you normally wouldn’t. I always learn the most from sessions and workshops that don’t fit the exact parameters of what I think I need.


Aside from speaking, what you are most looking forward to about being part of the inaugural HippoCamp?

Allison: I’m at a stage in my writing career where I’m deliberately making time for writing events and turning down paid work from my previous career (that I’m easing out of.) So making the choice to share time with other writers in Lancaster PA instead of managing a mall event in Bahrain is really positive for me!

Wendy: I’m looking forward to meeting other writers, meeting agents who might be interested in my work, sharing my research on memory and memoir, and, frankly, because I’m the mother of a very chatty eight-year-old, I’m looking forward to flying in a plane alone.

Nicole: I love the energy of conferences. The determination and curiosity, the willingness to learn and ask questions, knowing that everyone there with you has the same interests as you—everyone loves writing and wants to talk about it.

Amy: Meeting all of you! I have such a strong email and web-based writer community, but connecting with others in person has now become a special rarity that I really look forward to.


What’s on your personal conference agenda? Perhaps share with us a session/event you don’t want to miss.

Allison: I can’t wait to hear Jane Friedman. I’ve loved her blogging and her work with Scratch magazine, and I’m totally psyched to be in the same room with her!

Wendy: I’m looking forward to Lying to the Tell the Truth, Releasing Fears that Block the Best Work of Your Life, and of course, Lee Gutkind’s keynote address.

Monique: I’m going to attend How to Get Published in Literary Magazines; Acting the Book: Putting Pizazz into Your Literary Readings; and One Moment Memoir: Writing Flash Essays. I’m really excited for all three because I want to get more publishing credits in lit magazines, improve my reading series as I expand At The Inkwell across the country, and I plan to write an essay collection in the fall about dating in NYC.

Nicole: I’m looking forward to hearing James Stafford’s Lying to Tell the Truth.

Amy: I can’t wait to attend the Genre Hopping session. As a four-time author of nonfiction books, I can’t wait for this one because I’m writing my first YA novel now.


What are you most looking forward to about visiting Lancaster?

Allison: Some years ago I performed at the Renaissance Festival nearby, and I’ve always loved driving through this part of the country, especially the farmers’ markets and roadside stands. I will be acquiring as many jars of sweet hot pickles as I can pack – I can’t get them back home in Dubai.

Wendy: I’m coming all the way from southern California and I’ve never been to Lancaster, so I’m looking forward to exploring for coffee shops, yoga studios and independent bookstores in what I am told is a small, charming city.

Monique: I’ve never been to Lancaster and I’m looking forward to visiting the downtown shops and restaurants. I love visiting new cities and exploring their history.

Nicole: I’ve heard great things about the Market! Skyhorse Publishing has a cookbook about it coming out (The Lancaster Central Market Cookbook) and some of our authors are from Lancaster.

Amy: I have visited Lancaster a few times before. I love the market and all that the town has to offer, but also may rent a car and get out to the Amish country to visit that again. It’s such a different world out there and a truly special place.

Thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts on HippoCamp 2015! To read more interviews with our conference speakers, visit the HippoCamp blog.

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