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The Best Writers Conference You’ve Never Heard Of — PART 1

June 29, 2017

By Shannara Johnson


“Saturated” might be the proper word for how it feels after you’ve attended the annual WIFYR conference in beautiful Sandy, Utah (pronounced Wee-fur, short for Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers).

It’s not in the Writer’s Digest or the Guide to Literary Agents, which also lists all the major conferences in the US. Nobody I know—even the true conference addicts—has ever heard of WIFYR, though it is anything but new.

For the last eighteen years, this one-of-a-kind conference for children’s book writers has been lovingly organized and hosted by Carol Lynch Williams, an award-winning YA author with thirty books under her belt.

WIFYR is a building-block workshop/conference that lets attendees choose their own experience—from a full-on, five-day intensive to single-day workshops and afternoon lectures, from topic-centered classes to a full-novel workshop and a writing boot camp.

The first morning before class, I go downstairs for an early breakfast at the Best Western where I’m staying. The breakfast room is completely deserted, except for a middle-aged, balding man who comes in and sits down at the one-person table right next to me.

He wears a white dress shirt, black pants, a formal black vest, and a black bow tie—obviously one of the waiters on his break. I ignore him and watch a CNN news report on Trump being investigated on his alleged Russia relations.

When I arrive at the Waterford School, the private school that houses the annual WIFYR conference, I pick up my name tag and info and enter the auditorium for the first session of the week—the traditional greeting with announcements.

Right away, I realize three things:

1. WIFYR is tiny. There are only about 130–150 people in the auditorium, which will make for a very intimate conference experience. The faculty-to-attendee ratio seems to be around 1:10.

2. WIFYR is very homogenous. I don’t see any black or Asian faces; it looks like everyone is white and Mormon, and 90% of the attendees are female.

3. I’m an idiot. I spot the waiter I saw at the hotel at the front of the auditorium, in a lineup of faculty members. Frantic scrolling through my mobile welcome package reveals that he’s super-agent Stephen Fraser from the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

I also realize I sit straight in his line of view and that he must have noticed me when I came in. “Mortified” is too small a word for how I’m feeling right now.

“Just let it go,” says my old WIFYR friend Heather, who sits next to me, but my OCD prevents me from doing so. Finally, I get up and take the walk of shame to Stephen Fraser, profusely apologizing for my earlier behavior.

He smiles and nods while the other faculty members give me unreadable stares, which makes me realize that I just rudely interrupted their amicable chatting. I blush even more, if that’s possible, and slink back to my seat in the third row.

To be continued in PART 2...


Shannara Johnson is a US freelance copywriter and copy editor who was born and raised in Germany. She lives in Vermont with her teenage son, two badly trained dogs, and one cat who thinks he’s a dog too. As a person who gets bored easily, Shannara is unapologetically eclectic in her writing: from picture books to middle-grade and young-adult fiction, to adult horror short stories and humor—anything is fine, as long as it’s fun to write and read. You can find her equally eclectic blog at www.grumpygermanwriter.com.