2017 Conference Presenters

Keynote Speakers

Author and Writing Coach John DeDakis, is a former CNN Senior Copy Editor for the Emmy and Peabody-Award winning news program "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer."

DeDakis (pronounced deh-DAY-kiss) is the author of four mystery/suspense novels, Fast Track, Bluff, Troubled Water, and Bullet in the Chamber.

John's literary agent since 2004 is Barbara Casey, and he's working with agent Garry Dinnerman of Beverly Grant Associates (BGA) to bring the screenplay adaptations of his novels to the attention of Hollywood.

From 2013 to 2015, DeDakis was an adjunct journalism faculty member at the University of Maryland-College Park. In the fall of 2014, he began leading the "From Novice to Novelist" writing workshop at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He's been leading writing workshops at Washington's popular independent bookstore Politics and Prose since the fall of 2015.

In March 2013, DeDakis retired from CNN after a 25-year career there that began in 1988 when he joined the network as a writer. From 2001 to 2005, he supervised the writing on CNN's "Daybreak," anchored by Carol Costello. He also copy edited newscasts anchored by Donna Kelley, Leon Harris, Bill Hemmer, Daryn Kagan, Kitty Pilgrim, and Martin Savidge.

From 2006 to 2013, DeDakis led workshops in broadcast newswriting in CNN's Washington, D.C. bureau.

In addition to book signings and readings, DeDakis frequently speaks around the country on the topic "From Journalist to Novelist: (Or How I Learned to Start Making it Up)." He is also available as a one-on-one writing coach, a leader of day-long workshops for aspiring and/or struggling writers, and as an editor of book-length manuscripts.

Austin Camacho is the author of five detective novels in the Hannibal Jones series - Blood and Bone, Collateral Damage, The Troubleshooter, Damaged Goods and Russian Roulette and four in the Stark and O’Brien adventure series - The Payback Assignment, The Orion Assignment, The Piranha Assignment, and The Ice Woman Assignment and the detective novel Beyond Blue.

His short stories have been featured in four anthologies from Wolfmont Press, including Dying in a Winter Wonderland—an Independent Mystery Booksellers Association Top Ten Bestseller for 2008— and he is featured in the Edgar nominated African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study by Frankie Y. Bailey. He is also a media specialist for the Department of Defense. America's military people know him because for more than a decade his radio and television news reports were transmitted to them daily on the American Forces Network.

He was born in New York City but grew up in Saratoga Springs, New York. He majored in psychology at Union College in Schenectady, New York. After three years, he enlisted in the Army as a weapons repairman but soon moved into a more appropriate field. The Army trained him to be a broadcast journalist. Disc jockey duties alternated with news writing, video camera and editing work, public affairs assignments and news anchor duties.

During his years as a soldier, Camacho lived in Missouri, California, Maryland, Georgia and Belgium. He also spent a couple of intense weeks in Israel during Desert Storm, covering the action with the Patriot missile crews and capturing scud showers on video tape. While enlisted, he finished his bachelor's degree at night and started his master's, eventually rising to the rank of Sergeant First Class. In his spare time, he began writing adventure and mystery stories set in some of the exotic places he'd visited.

After leaving the Army, he continued to write military news for the Defense Department as a civilian. Today he handles media relations for DoD and writes articles for military newspapers and magazines. He is also deeply involved with the writing community. He is a past president of the Maryland Writers Association, past Vice President of the Virginia Writers Club, and is an active member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime. The Camacho family has settled in Upper Marlboro, MD with Princess the Wonder Cat and their dog, The Mighty Mocha.

Literary Agents & Indie Publisher

Valerie Noble is the senior agent at the Donaghy Literary Group. While studying chemistry at California State University, Long Beach, Valerie mastered the art of doing proper research, particularly for technical writing. Her love of science and reading merged when she began penning her first novel in the midst of her studies. In true scientific fashion, Valerie researched all there was to know about publishing. She connected with agents, editors, and other writers, and interned for Jessica Sinsheimer of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency.

An education is never finished and Valerie continues to cultivate relationships and hopes to use her knowledge and skills in finding fresh new voices for Donaghy Literary Group. Her client list includes: Pamala Brondos, Emily B. Martin, Erin Beaty, Karen Kaufman, Erin Michelle Sky, Steven Brown, Serra Swift, Jennifer L. Austin, Brooke Findley, Sarah Ignatius and Shane Dix.

Valerie loves science fiction and fantasy (think Kristin Cashore and Suzanne Collins) but reads everything under the sun. For her, it’s more about the writing and less about the genre. In saying that, Valerie is generally not interested in romance or paranormal.

Valerie is seeking Young Adult, and New Adult in the following areas:
  • Science Fiction

  • Fantasy

  • Historical Fantasy

  • Historical Fiction

  • Born and raised in northern Michigan, Maggie Kane received her BA in English and Humanistic Studies from Saint Mary's College in 2016. She then moved to New York to pursue a career in publishing. Maggie has since interned with Gelfman Schneider and ICM Partners as well as Inkwell Management. As an agent at the Irene Goodman Agency, she's currently interested in middle grade, young adult, and character-driven fiction. She can't resist a twist of the fantastical in unexpected places, and her reading interests are varied, from magical realism and fantasy/science fiction to idiosyncratic family sagas and literary suspense. She'll happily follow a compelling voice wherever it leads.

    Maggie will listen to pitches on behalf of all the agents at the Irene Goodman Agency. See the list below of the various genres represented at the agency:

    Irene Goodman is particularly interested in upmarket women's fiction, middle grade and young adult fiction, historical fiction, and family-driven thrillers. Nonfiction interests include pop culture, science, Francophilia, and lifestyle. Miriam is passionate about modern urban fantasy, young adult fiction, romance, and all other types of commercial fiction.

    Barbara Poelle is looking for high octane thrillers, edgy mysteries, literary and upmarket fiction and YA.

    Kim Perel is looking for platform-driven nonfiction in the areas of lifestyle, wellness, memoir, politics and narrative nonfiction. She is also looking for upmarket fiction and literary fiction.

    Rachel Ekstrom Courage is looking for upmarket and commercial fiction in the following categories: women's fiction, young adult, mysteries & thrillers, and is open to well-written narrative nonfiction.

    Victoria Marini is looking for commercial and literary Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction as well as upmarket commercial or literary Adult fiction. She represents contemporary, fantasy, sci-fi, magical realism, and horror, and select narrative non-fiction. Victoria would not be the best fit for prescriptive non-fiction, new age/religious/spirituality, popular science, new adult, or regency romances.

    Miriam Kriss represents everything from hardcover historical mysteries to all subgenres of romance, from thrillers to science fiction, from young adult fiction to fantasies, and everything in between. If it's fun to read, she probably represents it. She doesn't look for specific stories, focusing instead on finding a voice she can fall in love with and champion. This strategy of taking on only clients she's passionate about has led to six-figure deals for first-time authors and numerous client appearances on the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists.

    Denise Camacho, is the president of Intrigue Publishing. With over 15 years in the publishing industry, she brings her knowledge and expertise to those wanting to branch out and become published authors. As the president, Denise has the responsibility to review new submissions and make recommendations to the acquisitions team. Denise also enjoys working with authors to understand the industry and manage their expectations when having their work published.

    As its name implies, Intrigue Publishing, LLC strives to publish books that intrigue the reader, that is, they will arouse the reader’s curiosity with their unusual, new, fascinating and compelling qualities.

    Intrigue Publishing, LLC is interested in novels between 60,000 and 100,000 words in length that fall into the following genres: urban drama, young adult, crime drama and romance.

    Other Breakout Session Presenters

    Lydia Netzer the author of Shine Shine Shine and How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky, both published by St. Martin's Press. Shine Shine Shine was a New York Times Notable Book, a Target Book Club Pick, and a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize in fiction. Both books were finalists for the People's Choice award from the Library of Virginia. Lydia has taught workshops on fiction across the country, but lives in Hampton Roads with her husband and two children.

    Amanda Gomez is an MFA candidate in poetry and the Writers in Community (WinC) Coordinator at Old Dominion University. She has taught creative writing in Norfolk city public and private schools, and currently, she teaches creative writing at the Norfolk City Jail through the program, Humanities Behind Bars. Some of her works have been published in the following publications: Ekphrastic Review, Manchester Review, San Pedro River Review, Avalon Literary Review, Barely South Review, and Writers Resist.

    Meg Eden Kuyatt's work has been published in various magazines, including Rattle, Drunken Boat, Poet Lore, RHINO, and Gargoyle. She teaches at the University of Maryland.

    She is the author of four poetry chapbooks; her novel Post-High School Reality Quest is forthcoming June 2017 from California Coldblood, an imprint of Rare Bird Books.

    Frank Milligan has published both fiction and non-fiction. He has taught business and creative writing at Northern Virginia Community College, and currently teaches creative writing at the Christopher Wren Association of the College of William and Mary, various Arts centers, and other venues.

    His traditionally published book, Time to Write: Discovering the Writer Within After 50, 2008, Quill Driver Books, won a National Mature Media silver award, and his short fiction and non-fiction have won local, state, and regional awards.

    Frank holds a bachelor’s in psychology, a master’s in business and public administration, and a master of arts in writing (fiction) from the Johns Hopkins University.

    Frank retired from his first career as a counterintelligence agent, federal criminal investigator, and law enforcement senior executive to pursue his second-career goal of becoming a writer. He is immediate past president of the Chesapeake Bay Writers and does consulting, training, and coaching in business writing and creative writing. He is currently seeking representation for his first novel, a thriller.

    Dr. Meriah Lysistrata Crawford is an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, as well as a private investigator, writer, and editor. She has published short stories in several genres, a novella, essays, a variety of scholarly work, two poems, and co-edited the anthology Trust and Treachery: Tales of Power and Intrigue. Meriah has an MFA from the University of Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program, and a PhD from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Literature and Criticism program. Her work as a PI, spanning over fourteen years, has included investigations of shootings, murder, burglary, insurance fraud, backgrounds, counterfeit merchandise, patent infringement, and missing persons. For more information, including links to articles about the craft of writing, visit her website.

    Award-winning poet, essayist, Education Specialist for the U.S. Department of State and former Chair of the Department of English & Foreign Languages at Hampton University, Shonda Buchanan is currently an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing & English. Chosen as the Fall 2017 Writer-in-Residence at William & Mary College, Shonda’s poems and essays have been featured in numerous anthologies including The Seventh Wave, Urban Voices: 51 Poems from 51 American Poets, Silver Birch Press, Art Meets Literature: An Undying Love Affair, Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Step into a World: A Global Anthology of the New Black Literature, Geography of Rage: Remember the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, and Catch the Fire!!! A Cross-Generational Anthology of Contemporary African-American Poetry, Rivendale, and LongStoryShort. Shonda is the Literary Editor of Harriet Tubman Press.

    An Eloise Klein-Healy Scholarship recipient, a Sundance Institute fellow and a PEN Center Emerging Voice fellow, Shonda has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and several grants from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. She has freelanced for the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, AWP’s The Writer’s Chronicle and Indian Country Today.

    Her memoir, Touched: Growing Up Black and Indian in Michigan: A Daughter Uncovers a Family's History, is under consideration at a press. Shonda is working on two additional collections of poetry The Lost Songs of Nina Simone and Evidence of Cotton, Evidence of Smoke, and a collection of essays, Children of the Mixed Blood Trail: The Formation and Migration of Mixed Race Communities, Free People of Color and Black Indian Families, Settlements and Villages from the Southeast to the Midwest. Shonda’s book, Equipoise: Poems from Goddess Country, was published (December 2016) by San Francisco Bay Press. Shonda’s first collection of poetry, Who's Afraid of Black Indians?, published in 2012 by Poetic Publishing, explores the complexities of bi-raciality and the intersection between Blacks and Native Americans. Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Shonda currently resides in Hampton, Virginia, yet as a voyeur and traveler, she considers herself a citizen of the world.

    Erin Beaty is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a former weapons officer and leadership instructor. She is the author of forthcoming Traitor's Trilogy, a Young Adult Fantasy series. The first book, The Traitor's Kiss, was published by Imprint/Macmillan in May 2017. She is represented by Valerie Noble, senior agent at the Donaghy Literary Group.

    Erin and her husband have five children and live wherever the Navy sends them. She can be found at www.fiercereads.com, www.erinbeaty.com, and on twitter and instagram at @erinbeatywrites.

    Charity Ayres is a former Navy communicator living in Suffolk, Virginia with her Navy husband, daughter, and a small horde of cats and dogs. Her love of the written word led her from blue seas to a white screen of running text, a bachelor’s degree in English Education, and a master’s degree in Creative Writing.

    She plans to attend Old Dominion University to further her professional career with a Ph.D. in English. She utilizes her education and passion to teach high school students and adults about creating fiction or non-fiction that represents them in ways they might not have otherwise considered. It is within this passion that she has published four novels, placed in the 83rd Annual Writer’s Digest short fiction contest for a story dedicated to her father who died from a form of blood cancer in 2014.

    Ms. Ayres spends time away from school teaching workshops for burgeoning writers of all ages or scouring bookshelves for her newest favorite book, coffee in hand. She also enjoys visiting different genre conferences and participating in panels to discuss different aspects of being a writer. When not reading, writing, or teaching, she can be found on hiking trails or at animal reserves with her family to enjoy the fresh air and shining examples of life. It is within those quiet moments in the real world or chaotic moments of fiction that Ms. Ayres creates her own type of sanctuary and welcomes all comers.

    Titles include novels: Loki Bound, Loki: Hell Bound, Secret in the Wings, and Ice Burns.
    Short works include: What’s Left Behind: Daddy’s Little Girl, Fairies Among Men, and Angel Baby.
    Non-Fiction titles include publication in HR News magazine and Yahoo! Voices.

    A native of Tennessee and a devotee of the Great Smoky Mountains, Dr. Lisa Roney started listening to stories in the southern tradition early in her life. She has since traveled far from home and resides in Orlando, Florida, where the gators sometimes visit the pond across from her house and hawks and eagles screech from above.

    In her travels, she earned a BA in art from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and MFA and PhD degrees in English from Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania. She is Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Central Florida. Her areas of interest include fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, disability and women's studies, and medical humanities.

    Winner of several teaching awards over the years, Lisa has also developed numerous new courses and led a redesign of the undergraduate Creative Writing curriculum at UCF. In addition to teaching creative nonfiction and fiction workshops, she teaches courses in editing and in contemporary literature.

    Lisa is the author of Serious Daring: Creative Writing in Four Genres, Oxford University Press, ISBN-978-0199941629, The Best Possible Bad Luck, Finishing Line Press, ISBN-978-1622295920, and Sweet Invisible Body: Reflections on a Life with Diabetes, Henry Holt & Co., ISBN-978-0805056457


    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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