This year I had the chance to join a group friends (not the Ferrets—sorry ladies) going to OWFI. I had only gone once before, in 2013, while most of the others had gone every year for the past four years, but our consensus going in seemed the same: OWFI was sort of neat, but maybe this was the last time anyone in this friend group was going to go.
Except…this year? Was actually pretty amazing.
For some context: before registration even started, this year’s OWFI conference had a pretty rocky start. Their initial keynote speaker was Jay Asher, of 13 Reasons Why fame, who had just been accused of harassment. He was ousted pretty quick from the conference, but still, not exactly a great start for OWFI. (And OWFI, at the time that I’m writing this, still does not have a harassment policy in place.) He was, however, replaced by Michael Dahl, who turned out to be a really great dude.
But more than that, the last few years of OWFI conferences had been ho hum, if not out and out boring. The majority of the classes seemed geared towards the brand new writer who had never written before and to people who were just now discovering the internet and computers in general. I remember attending a class that explained what a webpage was and how and why an author needed one.
But THIS YEAR. This year was great. Apparently some of the complaints and suggestions to make the conference better actually sank in, or perhaps they found the right people to run it (or gave the people running it power to actually do it right). Whatever the case, it was awesome. There was a huge diversity of classes to choose from: classes for the new writer just getting started, classes for advanced writers struggling with their second or third or fourth book, classes for screenplays, classes for genre fiction like horror and sci fi and fantasy and romance and history and… just you name it, they had a class on it. They had two classes on fanfiction! Yes, fanfiction! (Because guess what, fanfiction is pretty great, and if you ever want to get into IP writing, you kind of have to know how to do it really well.)
And like I had mentioned before, Michael Dahl was a really awesome dude. His keynote address actually made me tear up a bit, it was so moving. His specialty is children’s books, and he’s passionate about making stories that’s accessible to every kid. That kids should be able to see themselves in the stories they read. That our job as writers is to put them in it, to reflect the diversity that is our world in our writing.
My only bad take-away from this year’s OWFI occurred during the costume contest. There were some pretty great costumes, including an absolutely stunning and accurate appearance of Frida Kahlo and an amazingly well done Arwen from Lord of the Rings, but there were some pretty awful ones, too. Like the too-many-to-count older ladies announcing they were “wearing their prom dresses from 1955” (or whenever) and… yes. Yes they were wearing their actual prom dresses from when they went to high school in the ‘50s. (Which, um, the contest was for “favorite literary or media entertainment character from 1950s,” not just “dress as yourself”.)
But worst was the woman dressed as Calamity Jane, who during her announcement of who she was dressed as made a pretty awful racial slur. Worse yet, about half the room laughed at her “joke.”
And then, she won. She won the costume contest.
And I’m going to be super petty here for a moment, but I’m pretty sure her costume was store-bought, too.
The thing that gets me, too, is that this year the conference was all about diversity. Of people, of writers, of characters, of forms, of genre… There were classes on songwriting and mental health right next to “How to Write a Query Letter.” So many different classes all about different kinds and types of writing all in the same place… And to see a woman make a racial slur to introduce her costume and then win was incredibly disheartening.
But before I make myself angry all over again, I want to say this. On the drive back from OKC, my friends and I discussed the conference between belting out Adele lyrics. And the conclusion we had all come to was that this year, OWFI had, all in all, been a pretty great experience. And that, if next year’s was as good as this one was, that we’d go again.
In fact, some of us had even volunteered (more like volun-told, in one case) to help out for 2019.
So, this year’s OWFI was pretty great. I’m making plans to go to next year’s. Maybe I’ll even have something to pitch this time around, too.