2015 Conference Presenters

Keynote Speakers

Dr. DeWitt Henry, professor of Writing, literature, publishing at Emerson College, is also the co-founder and executive director of Ploughshares, Inc., a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. Dr. Henry received his Ph.D. in English from Harvard University in 1971. He served as judge for the annual John C. Zacharis First Book Award ($1500 for best first book of poetry or fiction by a Ploughshares contributor), 1990-97 and 2007, and was the interim director/editor-in-chief of Ploughshares, 2007-8 and judge for Ploughshares Emerging Writers’ Contest in 2011. Recent publications include The memoirs Visions of a Wayne Childhood (2012); Sweet Dreams: A Family History (Hidden River Press, 2011), and Safe Suicide: Essays, Narratives, and Meditations (Red Hen Press, 2008). His novel The Marriage of Anna Maye Potts (University of Tennesee Press, 2001) won the Peter Taylor Prize.

Contemporary fiction writer Ellen Meister is the author of Dorothy Parker Drank Here (Putnam, 2015), Farewell, Dorothy Parker (Putnam, 2013), The Other Life (Putnam, 2011), The Smart One (HarperCollins, 2008) and Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA (HarperCollins, 2006), as well as numerous essays and short stories. The Other Life was nominated by BookPage for the top 20 books of 2011 and Book of the Year by the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association. It was also selected by the Austin Public Library for its Best Fiction of 2011 list and was singled out by the American Booksellers Association for the prestigious Great Reads Indie Next list. It is under option with HBO for a television series.

Ellen served as editor for an online literary journal and for a literary podcast program and now teaches creative writing at Hofstra University Continuing Education, mentors emerging authors, lectures on Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, and does public speaking about her books and other writing-related topics. Ellen is the voice of Dorothy Parker on her hugely popular Facebook page.

Literary Agents

Mark Gottlieb's focus on publishing began at Emerson College, where he was a founding member of the Publishing Club, later its president, overseeing its first publication and establishing the Wilde Press. After graduating with a degree in writing, literature, and publishing, Mark began his career with the vice president of Berkley Books (Penguin), working with leading editors.

His first position at the Trident Media Group literary agency was in foreign rights, selling the books of clients around the world. Mark later worked as executive assistant to Robert Gottlieb, chairman of Trident, with responsibility for organizing/managing diverse authors and their complex business transactions. He next assumed the position of audio rights agent. Since Mark has managed the audio rights business, the annual sales volume has more than doubled. Mark showed great initiative and insight in identifying talented writers. While continuing to head up audio, Mark is building his own client list of writers. He is excited to work directly with authors, helping to manage and grow their careers with all of the unique resources that are available to Trident.

Mark is looking For: FICTION – African-American, comedy, humor, comix, graphic novels, historical, horror, literary, mystery, thrillers, science-fiction, fantasy, western, women’s literature; NONFICTON – arts, cinema, photography, biography, memoir, history, pop culture, entertainment, travel, world cultures, true crime, children’s, middle-grade, young adult, and new adult.

Heather Flaherty, a literary agent at The Bent Agency, represents authors who write children's, middle-grade, and young adult fiction and nonfiction, as well as select new adult fiction, and pop-culture or humorous non-fiction. Her path to literary agent began in the editorial department at Random House in the UK. That's also where she became a young adult and children's literary scout, which finally landed her back in NYC, consulting with foreign publishers and Hollywood in search of the next big book.

Heather is looking for YA fiction across-the-board though her heart sways toward issue-related YA with humor and heart. She loves hard, punchy, contemporary YA that has no hesitation when it comes to crazy. She's always up for contemporary stories with sci-fi or fantasy elements, as well as clever re-spins of old or classic tales. Finally, she enjoys really good horror and ghost stories though not the gory-for-gory's sake or overly disgusting ones. That said, the one thing she loves above all else in a YA novel, regardless of sub-genre, is a strong and specific character voice — a real person, not another “everygirl.”

As for the middle-grade, she wants it stark, honest, and even dark — either contemporary or period — as long as it’s accessible. She is also looking for coming-of-age stories, dealing-with-difficulty stories, and witness stories (adult issues seen through a child’s POV). It's okay with her if these stories have slight magical or fantasy elements as long as thhey are subtle.

In new adult, she wants to see story, not just romance and/or erotica. A New Adult book should be a great YA novel only for an older audience.

On the nonfiction side, she's looking for strong teen memoirs about overcoming crushing situations.

Melissa Edwards, a literary agent at Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency, is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and Vanderbilt Law School. She is a member in good standing of the New York State bar. While Melissa began her career as a commercial litigation attorney, she always maintained aspirations to work in publishing. At present, Melissa handles foreign rights and is actively reading to develop her own list.

Melissa's taste ranges in genre from classic Victorian literature to hard-boiled crime dramas. She is interested in reading international thrillers with likeable and arresting protagonists, light-hearted women's fiction and YA, female-driven (possibly small-town) suspense, and completely immersive fantasy. Ultimately, Melissa is looking for a book that will keep her glued to the couch all day and night and continue to occupy her thoughts for weeks later.

Other Breakout Session Presenters


Michelle Garren Flye is the award-winning romance author of six novels. Michelle placed third in the Hyperink Romance Writing Contest for her short story “Life After.” Her short stories have been published by the romance anthology Foreign Affairs, Opium.com, SmokelongQuarterly.com and Flashquake.com. She has served on the editorial staffs of Horror Library Volume 1, Horror Library Volume 3, Butcher Shop Quartet, Butcher Shop Quartet II and Tattered Souls. Michelle has a Bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master’s degree in library and information science from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her novels include: Island Magic (Sleight of Hand Book 3), Escape Magic (Sleight of Hand Book 2), Close Up Magic (Sleight of Hand Book 1), Saturday Love (sequel to Ducks in a Row), Ducks in a Row, Tracks in the Sand, Weeds and Flowers, Where the Heart Lies, Winter Solstice, and Secrets of the Lotus She is the mother of three and lives in North Carolina with her husband and their rapidly growing collection of pets.

A bestselling science fiction/fantasy author and speaker, Dr. Chris Kennedy is a former naval aviator with over 3,000 hours flying attack and reconnaissance aircraft. Chris recently left his job as an instructional systems designer for the Navy to become a full-time writer. Chris' full-length novels include the "Occupied Seattle" military fiction duology, the "Theogony" science fiction trilogy, the "War for Dominance" fantasy trilogy, and the self-help book Indie Publishing for Profit: How to Get Your Book Out of Your Head and Onto the Shelves. Chris is currently working on The Search for Gram, the fourth book set in the Theogony universe. Catch up with Chris on Facebook. Follow him on Twitter at @ChrisKennedy110.

Lynn Yvonne Moon is the author of the successful four-book Agency Series for adults and the young adult Reflection series. In the Defendant's Chair, the most recent Agency book, explores the controversial subject of genetic tampering. Her latest YA book debuted June 2015, and her most recent picture book, Ten Rules about Monsters debuted in the fall of 2014. Lynn earned a masters degree in government from Troy State University and is working on a master of Fine Arts degree from Lindenwood University. She currently works for the Commonwealth of Virginia and resides in Virginia Beach.

Vanessa Barger was born in West Virginia and through several moves ended up spending the majority of her life in Virginia Beach. She is a graduate of George Mason University and Old Dominion University and has degrees in graphic design, a minor in Medieval and Renaissance literature, and a master's in technology education. She has had articles published in Altered Arts Magazine, has had artwork displayed in galleries in Ohio and online, and currently teaches engineering, practical physics, drafting, and other technological things to high school students in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Vanessa's books include: A Whispered Darkness, Slack Tide, Steaming, and Lock and Key. She is a member of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and the Virginia Writers Club. When not writing or teaching, she’s a bookaholic, movie fanatic, and traveler. She has one cat, who believes Vanessa lives only to open cat food cans, and can often be found baking when she should be editing.

Princess Perry is a senior lecturer in the English Department of Old Dominion University. Her most recent work appears in All About Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014). Her short stories have also appeared in African American Review, Harrington's Gay Men's Literary Journal, and Kweli Online Journal. In 2010, she earned a Pushcart Prize nomination for her short story, "A Hard Bed." Princess Perry earned a master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Old Dominion University.

Kelly Sokol's work has appeared in print and online journals, including ConnotationPress, The Quotable, and The Pitkin Review and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She contributes regularly to Tidewater Women and has served as guest editor for The Quotable. She earned a master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Goddard College, and she teaches creative writing at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk.

Ellen Bryson authored The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno, a novel set in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum in New York of 1865, about human appetites and longings and what it means to be "profoundly unique." Transformation won the San Diego Book Award for Historic Fiction, 2010, and was shortlisted for Great Britain’s Historic Writers Association’s Début Novel in 2012. It was selected Indie Pick of the Month, Notable, in July 2010, and Book-of-the-Month Club Alternative, 2010. Ellen earned her bachelor of Arts in English from Columbia University and her master of Arts in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University.


Daughter of a U.S. Navy officer and former member of WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service), Renee Olander grew up on and around military bases in Texas, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Hawaii, and southeastern Virginia. Her poems have appeared in the Split This Rock, Heart Online, and The Chronicle of Higher Education Poetry Month blogs, as well as in 13th Moon, Verse and Universe: Poems About Science and Mathematics, The Café Review, South Loop Review, Hawaii Pacific Review Best of the Decade, Rhino, Plainswoman, Dogwood Review, Snake~Nation~Review, 5am, and many other journals and anthologies. She received a Pushcart Prize nomination from Sistersong — Women Across Cultures. She earned a bachelor of Arts from Mary Baldwin College, a master of Arts from Old Dominion University, and a master of Fine Arts from University of Southern Maine. She has taught literature, creative writing, and poetry pedagogy at university and K — 12 levels for more than 25 years. Her collection of poems, A Few Spells was published by Finishing Line Press in 2010. She has been awarded the following prizes: Kate Smith Award for Poetry from AMELIA Magazine, 1988, Benn Award for Creative Writing from Mary Baldwin College, 1983 and 1984.

Charlotte Matthews is the author of two full-length collections of poetry, Still Enough to Be Dreaming and Green Stars. Her work has recently appeared in The American Poetry Review, Chautauqua, The Virginia Quarterly Review and The Greensboro Review. She teaches in The Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies Program at The University of Virginia.

Tim Seibles is the author of several poetry collections, including Hurdy-Gurdy, Hammerlock, and Buffalo Head Solos. His first book, Body Moves, (1988) has just been re-released by Carnegie Mellon U. Press as part of its Contemporary Classics series. His latest, Fast Animal, was one of five poetry finalists for the 2012 National Book Award. In 2013, he received the Pen Oakland Josephine Miles Award for poetry and received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Misericordia University for his literary accomplishments. Most recently, Fast Animal received the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Award, given triennially for a collection of poems. During the spring semester of 2010, Tim was poet-in-residence at Bucknell University. A National Endowment for the Arts fellow, he also enjoyed a seven-month writing fellowship from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center in Massachusetts. His poetry is featured in several anthologies, including Rainbow Darkness, The Manthology, Autumn House Contemporary American Poetry, Black Nature, Evensong, Villanelles, and Sunken Garden Poetry. His poem “Allison Wolff” was included in Best American Poetry 2010 and, most recently, his poem “Sotto Voce: Othello, Unplugged” was featured in Best American Poetry 2013. His poems have been published in literary journals and magazines, including Callaloo, The Kenyon Review, Indiana Review, Ploughshares, Electronic Poetry Review,[3] Rattle, and in anthologies, including Verse & Universe: Poems About Science and Mathematics (Milkweed Editions, 1998) and New American Poets in the 90s (David R. Godine, 1991). He has been a workshop leader for Cave Canem, a writer’s retreat for African-American poets, and for the Hurston/Wright Foundation, another organization dedicated to developing black writers. Tim is visiting faculty at the Stonecoast Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program, sponsored by the University of Southern Maine. He lives in Norfolk, where he is a member of the English and Master of Fine Arts in Writing faculty at Old Dominion University.


J. Darin Wales has directed episodic television for the likes of Discovery Channel, Discovery ID, and the National Geographic Channel and also has directed numerous award winning training and corporate videos. Darin’s short films have been screened at such festivals as the James River Film Festival, La Femme Film Festival, Dam Short Film Festival, Virginia Independent Film Competition, New Hope Film Festival, Bare Bones Film Festival, NewFilmmakers LA, and Chicago International Film Festival and have won such honors as the Cine Eagle, Angel, and the P.A.I.N. awards. Darin’s writing and directing of his short film Plink won him the Virginia Filmmaker Award in 2010. Darin’s numerous training and educational programs have garnered several awards, such as Telly, Communicator, and Davey awards. Darin recently graduated with his master of Fine Arts in creative writing at Queens University of Charlotte and is pursuing his career in screenwriting while also adjunct teaching and freelance directing. Darin’s current screenplay endeavor is titled The Witch of Pungo.

Playwright, screenwriter, director, producer, and university professor, Sean Gaffney was also the story administrator for Warner Bros. Features, editor of Drama Ministry Magazine, the managing director of Taproot Theatre (Seattle) and general manager of Lamb’s Theatre Company (New York). He has authored 29 produced plays, four commissioned television pilots, two published chapter books, as well as 70-plus produced videos, animation projects, and short films (including for Big Idea, SuperBook, Yake Films and Globalstage). He has been the master teacher for Act One: Writing for Hollywood and now oversees the Regent University Script and Screenwriting master of Fine Arts and scriptwriting master of Arts. He received his bachelor of Fine Arts from Drake University, his master of Fine Arts from Columbia University, and studied with Act One: Writing for Hollywood. Sean’s feature film, Jesse & Naomi, is currently in post-production with Corbin Bernsen’s Home Theater Films.


Tracey Arvidson is a native artist of Virginia's Eastern Shore. Her family dates back four generations to the area. An award-winning artist since the age of seven, she began selling her work as a freelance artist at 13 and has been an exhibiting artist since 14. After graduating from Chincoteague High School with honors and scholarships, she attended the number-one rated public arts school in the country, Virginia Commonwealth University. She was a resident illustrator for the Virginia Wildlife Magazine. After graduating in 2000 with a bachelor of Fine Arts, communication arts and design track and an illustration concentration, she moved back to the shore. She continues her artwork as a freelance artist, illustrating children's books and designing toys while exhibiting her work in galleries. She is a member of several local artists organizations and shares her passion for art through art lessons to children and adults. Her work has been exhibited in several museums on the East Coast and continues to win awards.


Michael Khandelwal is an award-winning writer and teacher. He contributes editorials, profiles, and feature articles to Coastal Virginia magazine, teaches poetry and fiction workshops for the Norfolk-area literary center, The Muse Writers Center (for which he is a founder and serves as Executive Director), is a past web content management specialist for The American Council on Education, and is the past President of the 2008 Electoral College of Virginia.


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