Author credits writers conference for launching memoir

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  • MEMBERS OF Whitefish author Susan Purvis’ writing critique group pose with an advanced copy of her soon-to-be-released memoir. From left to right are Debbie Epperson, Betty Kuffel, Deb Burke and Susan Purvis.

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  • MEMBERS OF Whitefish author Susan Purvis’ writing critique group pose with an advanced copy of her soon-to-be-released memoir. From left to right are Debbie Epperson, Betty Kuffel, Deb Burke and Susan Purvis.

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Can writing conferences help your career?

Ask Susan Purvis, the author of the soon-to-be-released memoir “Go Find.” Ten years ago, Purvis attended her first Flathead River Writers Conference. She had just moved to Whitefish from Crested Butte, Colorado, with the idea of writing a memoir about the past decade of her life. A professional gold exploration geologist and outdoor education specialist, she knew nothing about writing a book. She only knew she had a story to tell.

Purvis and her search-and-rescue dog Tasha were a renowned K-9 avalanche rescue team that found victims lost in mountain wilderness. Before her first writer’s conference, Purvis didn’t know an adverb from an adjective, much less how to produce upward of the 118,000 words that became the length of her book. She did know she was in it for the long haul, whatever it took. For Purvis, the move to Montana was a crucial component to the completion of this book.

“I always knew I would write a book, ever since I was in third grade. But I didn’t have the confidence or courage until I moved to the valley and found the Authors of the Flathead writing community. They made me accountable and professional. I would never have started or finished my memoir,” Purvis said.

At conferences, she learned about structure, dialogue, pacing, and character development — skills necessary to any story. She joined a writer’s critique group. Word by word and sentence by sentence, she wrote. Finding your voice can take years. In the meantime, the women in her writer’s group became her closest friends — helping each other find their way through loss, love and word count.

“Those women and this writing community are like a family to me,” Purvis explained. “They helped me find my confidence and voice.”

Purvis’ genre, memoir, works best when voice cuts to the bone. She had shown versions to various agents through the years, but the first real interest started when she got personal.

“I could write about the adventures and mission with my dog, but I really had to talk about what was going on in my interior life, before anyone really cared. And that was hard, like driving pins under fingernails,” she explained.

During her third conference, she made contact with a literary agent from New York City who encouraged her to submit the book when completed, interested because of the universal theme of choices women have to make. The agent’s interest kept her focused at the task at hand.

“Nothing was going to stop me.” Purvis recalled.

Four drafts and 10 years of Flathead River Writers Conferences later, her first book manuscript is at Blackstone Publishing headquarters, ready to distribute. Her front-cover endorsement is none other than best-selling author Sebastian Junger, who calls it “a brave and profound book.”

Her next book will be from her dog Tasha’s point of view.

The lineup for this year’s Flathead River Writers Conference includes William Bernhardt, a powerhouse author who has sold more than 40 million books; best-selling paranormal author Deborah LeBlanc, a licensed death scene investigator; and Dennis Foley, who wrote for the TV series such as “MacGyver” and teaches writing at UCLA.

On the business side, industry professional presenters will include editors, agents and publicists. For a full conference schedule and to register visit www.authorsoftheflathead.org or call 406-881-4066. Conference size is limited to 100, so sign up now to reserve a space.

The 28th annual conference is Sept. 22-23, at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell. Fees are $160 for both days, or $90 for one day; you can choose either Saturday or Sunday. Cost includes lunch, coffee and a Saturday evening social with the presenters and fellow writers.

Purvis’ memoir “Go Find” will launch on Oct. 2; www.susanpurvis.com.

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