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2014 Conference Schedule

Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center – Grapevine, Texas

Friday, July 18, 2014

7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
(Hotel Lobby)

9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Writing Workshops for Selected Entries
(Conference Rooms – 1st Floor)

4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
(Val Verde Auditorium)

Panel Discussion: “Unveiling the Mystery: Writing, Editing and Publishing for the Literary Market”
Writing a book and building a career in literary nonfiction publishing requires an understanding of the larger literary world – a Byzantine and mysterious world to most of us. What sort of ideas might grab a nonfiction book editor’s attention? How do you shape that idea into a book proposal? Do you really need a literary agent to help you prepare and sell the proposal, or can you do it on your own? And if you do need an agent, how do you get one interested in your book idea? A panel consisting of Little, Brown’s top book editor, and four prominent literary agents will address these questions and answer your own. Want to build a career in literary publishing? Your journey begins here.

Panel Participants
Jim Donovan
Jim Hornfischer
John Parsley
David Patterson
BJ Robbins

This is an optional session to be purchased during online registration.

5 p.m.
Cash bar open
(Austin Ranch)

5:30 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Southwest Soiree – Reception dinner for speakers and conferees
Meet up with everyone at Austin Ranch and enjoy Tex-Mex. Sue Mayborn, honorary publisher of the conference, will welcome our writers and guests.

5:45 p.m.
Buffet dinner open

6:45 p.m.
Program begins

7:30 p.m. – 8:15 p.m.
Keynote Address: David Quammen
(Austin Ranch)

Lecture: "Why I'm Not Still a Novelist: Nonfiction as Literary Art"
David Quammen has been a nonfiction writer--and only a nonfiction writer--since 1988.  Before that, he published three novels and a book of short fiction.  He believes that nonfiction can be high literary art, no less so than fiction, and that the category "nonfiction" should be considered a standard to which prose rises, not a catchall category into which it falls.  In his Mayborn lecture, he'll explain briefly how, in his own case, the shift from fiction to nonfiction happened, and why that shift has been richly satisfying.  More importantly, he'll offer a list of simple principles and techniques (he might even dare to call a few of them verities) that he considers valuable, even crucial, to good nonfiction.  He'll sketch these principles and techniques, in part, by way of personal experience and examples from his own work, but he'll have the needs and circumstances of other writers, and of course the expectations and wants of readers, very much also in mind.  Quammen sees the craft of writing nonfiction books as parallel to the work of a mosaicist, creating vast, nuanced, unexpected friezes--of a fire-breathing Chinese dragon, say, ridden by a tiny white clown--using only small squares of different colored tile.  He'll try to explain what that pompous analogy is meant to convey.

8:15 – 8:30 p.m.
Q & A with David Quammen
(Austin Ranch)

8:30 – 9 p.m.
Book signing with David Quammen and 2014 Ten Spurs authors
(Austin Ranch)

9 p.m. 'til the roosters crow
Spend the remainder of the evening socializing with writers and conferees at the Austin Ranch. Cash bar. Enjoy the cool notes of the Who Do band, a “literary” blues band that includes Saturday keynote Lawrence Wright, Sunday speaker Ricardo Ainslee and John Burnett, an NPR national correspondent and author of Uncivilized Beasts and Shameless Hellions.


Saturday, July 19, 2014
(All Saturday sessions will take place in Val Verde)

7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Registration Desk
(Hotel Lobby)

8:50 a.m. to 9:25 a.m.
Panel Discussion with Stephen Fried, Annie Jacobsen and Tim Elfrink
Moderated by Bryan Burrough

"Extreme Reporting and Extremely Ambitious Writing"
How three journalists learned to penetrate the impenetrable fortresses of DOD, FDA, Pharma, Major League Baseball and other industrial complexes--and then write not only for wonks, but for readers who demand character-driven narrative. Join Annie Jacobsen, best-selling author of Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base and Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America; Stephen Fried, award-winning magazine journalist and author of five nonfiction books, including Bitter Pills: Inside the Hazardous World of Legal Drugs, and long-form narrative teacher at Columbia J-School; and  Miami New Times managing editor Tim Elfrink, whose Polk Award winning investigation blowing open a Florida anti-aging clinic that was helping many pro athletes use performance enhancing drugs led to him co-authoring the new book Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis, and the Quest to End Baseball's Steroid Era. These are journalists who have done multiple massive science, medicine and technology investigations that have also driven innovative story-telling in articles and books. They can offer advice to veterans and to those just interested in moving to the next level. Moderated by award-winning journalist, best-selling author and Vanity Fair contributing editor, Bryan Burrough.

9:25 to 9:35 a.m.
Q & A with Stephen Fried, Annie Jacobsen and Tim Elfrink

9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Close Encounters of the Literary Kind, Session 1 

This is an optional session to be purchased during online registration. See the ticket in your nametag for designated time and location. Bring your ticket and nametag. Important: Please arrive early for your 15-minute appointment with one of our literary agents.

9:40 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.
Panel Discussion with Elizabeth Royte and Rose George
Moderated by Michelle Nijuis

"Reckoning with Waste: Two Science Writers Reveal Their Madness and Methods Digging Through the World's Most Off-Putting Places"
The story of what we throw — and flush — away is an enormous narrative opportunity, say authors Elizabeth Royte and Rose George. Royte, the author of Garbage Land, and George, the author of The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters, say their research has not only led them to fascinating tales but also to places and sources ignored by other journalists. At the same time, narratives about our unwanted stuff present very particular reporting, writing, and even marketing challenges. Royte and George will talk about the lure of their beat, what they've learned from covering it, and where they plan to dig next.

10:15 a.m. to 10:25 a.m. 
Q & A with Elizabeth Royte and Rose George

10:25 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. 
Break outside Val Verde

10:40 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.
Panel Discussion with Sam Kean and Bill Streever
Moderated by John Parsley

"Science Stories: How to Go From Book Ideas to Choosing One, Structuring a Proposal, and Writing Through to the End"
Becoming a science writer sounds like it requires two difficult things: learning science, and learning to write! But if science fascinates you, whether it's your career or your casual interest, readers need you. There are few greater callings than taking the world around us, from the way our bodies work to the way our weather works, looking deeply inside those works, and then telling the stories of science in a way that makes sense, has impact, and even entertains. Sam Kean and Bill Streever have more than their editor, John Parsley, in common. They're both well known as bestselling science writers who love the way science works and describe it in their books through stories. But that might seem to be where their similarities end. Streever is a biologist who writes from personal experience (in his books Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places and Heat: Adventures in the World's Fiery Places, of temperature's extremes and the ways we live with them); Kean has a master’s degree in library science and digs deep into historical research to bring science (and scientists) alive in books like The Disappearing Spoon and The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons. But like every writer, they work through the same issues-how to know if a science story has legs for a book rather than an essay or article? What stories not only translate to book-length writing, but sustain a writer's own interest to the end? How important is it to entertain when writing about complicated subjects -- and is there such a thing as pushing it too far? And when you do think a science story could work for a book, how do you go about creating a proposal that draws agents and editors in, while also setting forth a solid plan for putting pen to paper?

11:15 a.m. to 11:25 a.m. 
Q & A with Sam Kean and Bill Streever

11:30 a.m. to 12:05 p.m.
Plenary Session with Brad Stone: The Bloomberg Lecture Series in Narrative Business Journalism

"Behind the Reality Distortion Field: Getting the Scoop on Secretive Tech Giants like Amazon"
Today's tech giants have a reflexive response when it comes to relating to journalists and authors - they just say no. Companies like Apple and Amazon have made an art out of avoiding comment and preventing journalists and authors from probing their cultures, histories and larger-than-life founders. Brad Stone ran up against this considerable barrier in reporting his book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. In his talk, Stone will unravel how he broke the story down -- from meeting with Bezos for the first time to pitch the book, to fielding his initial reluctance to cooperate, to persuading him to permit interviews with other Amazon execs and family members. He’ll describe his reporting process and multi-year interaction with the company, and the backlash after the book was published. Stone’s lecture will provide lessons in how to get behind the curtain of the highly secretive, highly mysterious company that is revolutionizing the way we shop and read.

12:05 p.m. to 12:15 p.m. 
Q & A with Brad Stone

12:15 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Lunch in Windfall

1:30 p.m. to 2:05 p.m.
Plenary Session with Amy Dockser Marcus

"How to Nurture Your Passion Project"
We all have them: the ideas we obsess over, the projects that we’re sure would be great stories someday. These are the ideas that engage our minds but don’t always fit into our daily beat or come to us through an editor’s assignment. Amy Dockser Marcus of The Wall Street Journal spent five years following a group of parents and scientists who were working together to find a treatment for a fatal disease, before the project reached a stage she thought might gain an editor’s approval. Over the course of the next year, she and a team of videographers, photographers and editors produced the ten-part reporting and multi-media series, Trials. How do you nurture a passion project while still doing your daily assignments? How do you get sources to let you in without a commitment that the story will ever be printed? When you finally sit down to tell a story you’ve followed for years, how do you create a narrative? And how do you make the transition from quiet passion project that you work on by yourself to something where many others weigh in?

2:05 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. 
Q & A with Amy Dockser Marcus

2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Close Encounters of the Literary Kind, Session 2

This is an optional session to be purchased during online registration. See the ticket in your nametag for designated time and location. Bring your ticket and nametag. Important: Please arrive early for your 15-minute appointment with one of our literary agents.

2:20 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Panel Discussion with Fred Guterl and Anna Kuchment
Moderated by Tom Huang

"'Should Science Stories Give Readers Headaches?’ And Other Questions"
When editors at Scientific American redesigned the magazine in Sept 2010, they sought, among other things, to make it more accessible to a wider audience. One way the editors did that was to introduce more narratives written by journalists to complement those written by scientists, and overall to sharpen the storytelling. How do you accomplish this without alienating longtime readers who want their science unadulterated? (As a reader once wrote in a letter to the editor, "I want more stories that make my head hurt.")  How does the staff of Scientific American address that question differently from the staff of The Dallas Morning News? What elements do Scientific American and The Dallas Morning News science narratives have in common? We’ll discuss this issue, as well as how Scientific American editors help scientists craft their own bylined narratives from their often arcane research.

3 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. 
Q & A with Fred Guterl and Anna Kuchment

3:15 p.m. to 3:50 p.m.
A Conversation between Dennis Overbye and Joel Achenbach

"Two of the Most Distinguished Science Writers in America Discuss How to Transform the Lofty, Arcane and Esoteric Discoveries of Science into Compelling Prose"
Dennis Overbye of The New York Times and Joel Achenbach of  The Washington Post have recently tackled such difficult science topics as the search for the Higgs boson (for which Overbye was a 2014 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize) and the purported discovery of gravitational waves emanated in the first moments after the big bang. How can a journalist turn this kind of potentially incomprehensible material into stories that ordinary people would not only read, but would fully understand and actually enjoy? Overbye and Achenbach will interview each other about the challenges of translating “hard science” into ordinary, accessible language. They’ll discuss ways that science journalists can, and should, use narrative techniques to demystify the material and show how scientific and technological discovery is very much a human enterprise. And they will examine how scientists (especially Einstein), and the writers who follow them straddle the gap between the sacred and the profane, the grandeur and the gossip, in their own, sometimes-not-so-luminous, lives.

3:50 p.m. to 4 p.m. 
Q & A with Dennis Overbye and Joel Achenbach

3:55 p.m. to 4:10 a.m. 
Break outside Val Verde

4:15 p.m. to 4:55 p.m.
Panel Discussion with Sheri Fink and Mimi Swartz
Moderated by Cathy Booth Thomas

"Trading Places: A Narrative Journalist Turned Medical Writer and a Doctor Turned Narrative Journalist Explore What it Means to Start from Scratch"
In writing non-fiction, is it better to know too much or too little? When it comes to explaining complex issues to the average reader, the expert and the novice confront very different problems. What should be left in? What should be left out? How much explaining is too much or too little, and how does your previous experience get in the way? Sheri Fink, a doctor and Pulitzer Prize winning author of Five Days at Memorial, came to her subject with an expertise any journalist would envy: she's a medical doctor who also holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience, did medical service in combat zones and developed her storytelling under the tutelage of narrative guru, Jack Hart, at The Oregonian. Dr. Fink's first book was a narrative reconstruction of three years in the lives of medical staff at a hospital under siege in Bosnia. Mimi Swartz is a two time national magazine award winner who has devoted most of her career to long-form journalism.  She is currently writing a book about the 50-year-quest to build an artificial heart - a subject that might be daunting to even experienced cardiologists. These veteran journalists and authors will discuss the differences, advantages and pitfalls of deconstructing complex medical stories through the eyes of a doctor turned narrative journalist and a narrative journalist turned medical writer.

4:55 p.m. to 5:05 p.m. 
Q & A with Sheri Fink and Mimi Swartz

5:10 p.m. to 5:55 p.m.
Plenary Session with Carl Hart

"Counterintuitive Thinking: Challenging Our Beliefs about Race, Poverty and Drugs"
Twenty-four years ago, Carl Hart, a neuroscientist, set out to cure drug addiction in America. He believed hard drugs, particularly crack cocaine, was the cause of most poverty and crime in poor, metropolitan communities, including his own in Miami. Hart, like just about everyone in the nation, supported legislation intended to crack down on the smokable form of cocaine, considered 100 times more addictive than powder cocaine. Both legislators and movie makers branded crack cocaine as a new form of slavery. Who can forget the film New Jack City in which crack dealer Nino Brown took over an entire housing project and enslaved the tenants with crack cocaine?  Hart’s sentiments about drugs and society inspired him to study the neuroscience of drug addiction; how illegal drugs alter brain cells to make the user addicted. If he could discover the neural mechanisms responsible for addiction, Hart believed his finding could curb users’ appetite for crack cocaine, as well as the social and cultural problems caused by crack in the inner cities of America. In doing his research, however, the scientist discovered surprising truths about crack that challenged his thinking about choice and pleasure, about addiction and prevention. Hart chronicled his journey of self-discovery in a haunting memoir, High Price, a story that challenges prevailing public perceptions about race, poverty, and drugs, and sheds light on why current drug enforcement and prevention policies are failing. What can we learn from Hart’s science and his writing? That counterintuitive thinking is often the stuff of scientific breakthroughs and great stories, too.  The scientist-writer will show us how to use research and reporting to challenge generally accepted beliefs and ideas that, upon close scrutiny, just don’t stand up."

6:05 p.m.
Cash bar open
(International Foyer)

The evening will reconvene in the International Ballroom.

7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Literary Lights Dinner and Book Auction

Emceed by John McCaa an award-winning journalist and news anchor at WFAA-TV in Dallas/Fort Worth

7:45 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Literary Lights Award Presentations

8 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.
Keynote Address: Lawrence Wright

"Wright’s Way: How to Organize Material, Craft a Narrative, and Find Compelling Characters To Carry the Story Along From Start to Finish"
Whether they work for newspapers, magazines or book publishers, most narrative writers have developed a method to organize and craft their material into prose that they hope reads like fiction. But Lawrence Wright, winner of two National Magazine Awards, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Looming Tower and a staff writer for The New Yorker, counts on a meticulous and painstaking methodology to reduce complex subjects and seemingly impenetrable worlds into manageable material at the tip of his fingertips.  His process sounds mysterious:  “horizontal interviews”, the “rubber band theory” and characters he calls “donkeys” move his stories along. In interviewing, Wright takes no shortcuts; he interviewed 600 sources for Looming Tower and 200 for Going Clear, sometimes interviewing subjects dozens of times. He takes notes in longhand on lined, canary yellow writing tablets. He distills the most important information on white 4x6 cards, cataloguing it by subject matter. During his talk, Wright will unravel his methodology to make the otherwise daunting task of distilling a complex subject, and months or years of research, into riveting nonfiction prose more simple than it seems.

8:45 p.m. to 9:05 p.m. 
Q & A with Lawrence Wright

Book signing with Lawrence Wright and all Conference Authors
(International Foyer)


Sunday, July 20, 2014
(All Sunday sessions will take place in Val Verde)

8:50 a.m. to 9:20 a.m.
A Conversation between Michelle Nijhuis, Kim Cross and Our Conferees

"Building Character: Field reporting, Facebook stalking, and other tools for adding personality to your scientific narrative"
The most memorable science writing puts a human face on science, introducing the reader to both the people behind the science and the people affected by it. Lay readers turn the page because they care what happens to the characters, and characters add context, meaning, and emotion to the cold, hard data. Thanks to the eyewitness power of digital media, today’s storytellers have more tools than ever for getting into the minds of sources and reconstructing complex events. We'll discuss how narrative writers can combine traditional field reporting with social-media research to enrich their portraits of scientists and others.

9:20 a.m. to 9:35 a.m. 
Q & A with Kim Cross and Michelle Nijuis

9:40 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.
Plenary Session with Seth Mnookin

"Watching the detectives: Why thinking like a mystery writing is the key to writing and reporting compelling non-fiction"
Seth Mnookin has written three books on seemingly dissimilar subject: 2004’s Hard News, about The New York Times plagiarism scandals; 2006’s Feeding the Monster, which detailed the Boston Red Sox’ rise to World Series Champions; and 2011’s The Panic Virus, which explored the roots of the vaccine-autism controversy. The common thread in these works is Mnookin’s use of the tropes of classic detective fiction to inform both his researching and his writing. In his reporting, he conducts every interview as if he was searching for clues, which often means asking people to tell the same story again and again. When he sets down to write, he focuses on people’s personal motivations, he is parsimonious in his explanations, and most importantly, he knows that the key to a good mystery is not uncovering what happened, but how and why it happened.

10:15 a.m. to 10:25 a.m. 
Q & A with Seth Mnookin

10:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.
Panel Discussion with Doug Swanson and Ricardo Ainslie
Moderated by Dianna Solis

"Borrowing from Anthropology, Psychology and Sociology to Mine the Mafioso Subculture"
How does a writer gain entry into secret societies, closed worlds or hostile environments? How does one gain trust and break the code? And once on the inside, how does the writer understand what he or she is seeing and synthesize it in non-fiction? Ricardo Ainslie and Doug J. Swanson have both borrowed from anthropology, psychology and sociology to penetrate criminal subcultures and emerge to tell their tales. Ainslee, a psychologist and writer, chronicled the violent streets of a notorious Mexican border city in his book, The Fight to Save Juarez: Life in the Heart of Mexico’s Drug War. Ainslee will reveal how, as he journeyed to Juarez many times over several years, he managed to gain the trust of his subjects and to understand the city’s deadly cross-currents. Swanson, a newspaper reporter making his first venture into book-length nonfiction, immersed himself in the organized crime swamps of Dallas and Las Vegas from the 1940s onward. Using once-secret government records, and tracking down a 91-year-old former hitman, he was able to re-construct a lost world. The result was Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker.

11:05 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. 
Q & A with Ricardo Ainslie and Doug Swanson 

11:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

11:30 a.m. to 12:05 p.m.
Plenary Session with Bob Shacochis

"The Making of An American Writer: Write. Write More. Write Well."
“Write. Write more. Write well” might be the inspirational answer to the question: How do I become a writer? But the reality of a writing life itself begs a more multi-dimensional response. Some paths to a writing life seem formulaic in their simplicity–Do this, Do that, Welcome to the Club. Some writers seem to move forward using hastily scribbled maps that make no apparent sense to any intelligent person. And yet no matter the singularities that end up giving your life as a writer its particular shape, the destination remains universal. Audience. Rent money. A voice contributing to the national (or regional or local or international) discourse. A contributing presence in the community of human beings. With these issues in mind, Mayborn has asked award-winning author, Bob Shacochis, to talk about the navigational waypoints of his journey as a writer–raised Inside the Beltway, J- School and his short career as an agricultural journalist, the switch from journalism to fiction, the switch back from fiction to long-form nonfiction, and the integration of both genres in his most recent novel, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Prize.

12:05 p.m. to 12:15 p.m. 
Q & A with Bob Shacochis

12:20 p.m. to 1 p.m.
Keynote Address: Sheri Fink

"Before The Next Monster Storm Threatens a Major Population Center, How Can Journalists Prepare Themselves Better Than America's Creaky Medical Infrastructure? Lessons Learned From The Author of 'Five Days At Memorial.'"
Lessons on how to prepare ourselves for Big Storm coverage, or really any traumatic event, from Sheri Fink, who has both written about wars and disasters and served as an aid worker in emergencies near and far. What to expect, what we should be paying attention to, what's important and what isn't and, among other things, how we can help readers to comprehend the actual experience. Look at disaster coverage in a new way-- a way aimed at giving readers stories that matter. Be aware of your power to do good and to do harm when writing about trauma. In her gripping account exploring how a New Orleans hospital dealt with the Katrina disaster, Five Days at Memorial, Dr. Fink offers no facile judgments. She fully engages readers in the ethical and medical issues involved. And she never lets us forget that frightened and fallible human beings were making those decisions, human beings like us.

1 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. 
Q & A with Sheri Fink

1:15 p.m. to 1:20 p.m.
Farewell Address: Dorothy Bland

Book Signing outside Val Verde with Sheri Fink, Bob Shacochis, Seth Mnookin, Ricardo Ainslie and Doug Swanson. 

Adios, amigos.