Maui forum offers write stuff
WAILEA » Honolulu resident Patricia Wood's writing success began with the Maui Writers Conference.
In the previous two years, she participated in the preconference retreat, where best-selling novelist and conference presenter Jacquelyn Mitchard guided her. After Wood obtained a prestigious agent at William Morris, 16 editors from major publishing houses requested her book and she won a six-figure advance. This year, Wood has returned to teach other novice writers and celebrate the recent publication of "The Lottery," her novel that will appear on bookshelves in 12 countries.
The 15th annual Maui Writers Conference is taking place this weekend at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, with nearly 600 attendees, 100 volunteers and 78 authors, screenwriters, editors and agents teaching seminars and offering one-on-one consultations. The impressive roster includes blockbuster novelist Scott Turow ("Presumed Innocent"), Academy Award-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt ("Little Miss Sunshine"), Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Powers ("Mark Twain: A Life"), Academy Award-winning screenwriter Pamela Wallace ("Witness") and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Buzz Bissinger ("Friday Night Lights").
Following the opening chant and hula kahiko by Pali Ahue and his halau, Na Maile Ku Honua, former U.S. Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin read some of his compositions, both old and new, to the spellbound audience. Because the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner has lived on Maui since the 1970s, much of his writing illuminates the subtleties of the Valley Isle.
Poetry comes alive when its author gives voice to the words. "If you don't hear it, you don't get it," the nearly 80-year-old Merwin told the crowd, which offered spontaneous applause throughout his presentation. "We are talking about another dimension in life. You shouldn't read it because you ought to. Pleasure is the thing."
THE CONFERENCE began in 1993 at the Ritz Carlton on Maui, where co-director Shannon Tullius worked at the time. Her husband, John Tullius, already mentored many young writers, but his ability to reach everyone seeking direction became increasingly difficult. Together, they decided to organize a gathering to teach and inspire writers. "John just called everyone he knew and we put it together in six weeks," Shannon said.
Screenwriter and author Joe Eszterhas ("Basic Instinct") presented that year, generating the buzz necessary to launch the enduring affair. Since then, other luminaries have included Ron Howard, Jackie Collins, Carrie Fisher, Frank McCourt, Elmore Leonard and Carl Bernstein. "In the beginning, people wanted to come to Maui, but then everyone in the business heard what a great conference it was," Shannon said. "There's networking from the bottom to the top. Plus, everybody's relaxed."
Representatives from New York publishing houses can attest to that. "There's a high caliber of published authors here, and the conference is very well-run," said Sarah Durand, a presenter and HarperCollins editor who is always seeking new talent. She admits the location doesn't hurt either.
"It's one of the premier events in the world," said Honolulu consultant, author and speaker Drake Beil. The results speak for themselves. "People are getting published here."
Longtime Maui visitor Priscilla Padgett of Mercer Island, Wash., decided it would be the perfect place to kick-start her writing ambitions. Though she possesses an advanced degree in documentary filmmaking and has published a few articles, Padgett's main work for the past 13 years has been as a stay-at-home mom. "I'm here to get inspired, and so far I've been really pleased," she said.
"Every year, they bring back user-friendly authors," confirmed John Briley, a semiretired pediatrician from Wailuku who has attended all 15 conferences. He appreciates the way celebrities remain accessible in the casual atmosphere.
Obviously, attendance does not guarantee publication -- of anything. But the networking and instructional opportunities are endless.
"It goes beyond mentoring," said Wood, the novelist, who collected 78 rejections en route to her achievements. "They're not carrying you. Maui is self-help. Nobody got me my agent. Nobody got me my publisher. But I learned how to talk to an agent. And I just kept on writing.
"I thought I was a writer my whole life, and this is the culmination of that dream," continued Wood, who lives on a boat and has almost completed her Ph.D. in disability and diversity at the University of Hawaii. "It's a thrill to have my words immortalized."