So, What's Your Story? Aspiring Writers Share Theirs At ASU Conference

By Tom Maxedon
Published: Friday, March 6, 2020 - 5:05am
Updated: Wednesday, January 31, 2024 - 1:26pm

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Tom Maxedon/KJZZ
Attendees of the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference look over the wares during a break from the morning sessions inside Old Main at ASU.

Established writers and those aspiring to become one met recently for the 16th-annual Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference.

The series of events presented by the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University celebrated writers and readers of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

In her 1981 speech to the Ohio Arts Council, legendary African-American writer Toni Morrison said, “Writing to me is an advanced and slow form of reading. If you find a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."

Ryan Krebs/Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing
Piper Center Director and Arizona Poet Laureate Alberto Ríos (left) speaks with Tanner Menard, a local poet and musician who recently launched a reading series showcasing poets from the LGBTQ community with Equality Arizona.

That quote seemed like the impetus for the opening lines of the conference program guide written by Alberto Ríos who wrote simply, “Welcome writers. Welcome readers.”

Ríos is Piper’s director and in 2013 became the first Arizona poet laureate. His seminar was devoted to magical realism. “Magical realism is a wonderful phrase but in Spanish it’s called lo real maravilloso, or ‘the marvelous real,’” he said.

The term refers to a mixing of realism and fantasy both in art and literature. Rios said he loves the genre because, “it comes from a life lived, not a life imagined. So, anything magical or marvelous is not made up.” He invoked one of the exemplars of the style.

Rios said, “In One Hundred Years of Solitude, for example, Garcia Marquez says he’s got a newspaper article for absolutely every strange thing that happens in that book. I go by the grocery store and I see “The Sun,” or whatever, and Two-Headed Alien Had My Baby or whatever.”

A lot of the attendees came to the conference for inspiration, like Diana from California, who is an aspiring writer.

So, What’s Diana’s story?

Diana said, “I dabble in poetry that takes on a blend between naturalism and surrealism and how I can relate that back to myself and my identity and philosophy and whatnot.”

Others like Tony Dietz attended the conference to find out more about writing a memoir.

So, What’s Tony’s story?

He said, “As a father who had a working wife for a while and I was home with the kids, I realized my one talent that I had was telling stories and I could make them do anything I wanted by just telling them a story like, ‘Did you know about the little girl who didn’t do this?’”

Tony Dietz
Tom Maxedon/KJZZ
Tony Dietz came to the conference to get a better grasp on how to write a memoir on raising his daughters.

Danielle Du who’s an avid reader and an ASU student who doesn’t have a creative background came to the conference for a unique reason.

So, What’s Danielle’s story?

She said, “Honestly to interact with more writers and get a writing/literary community feel because I’m actually a med studies major so I don’t get to talk to like other arts majors or people that are in the arts."

For writer and musician Andrea Avery, stories take a turn, especially when real life happens.

So, What’s Andrea’s story?

Avery said, “What I found myself feeling a tug towards was writing about my experience as a musician with rheumatoid arthritis. I was a promising classical pianist and I got R.A. when I was 12, and so that felt like the story I was supposed to write and I called an old teacher and I said, ‘What do I do? I’m supposed to be a fiction writer.’ And, he’s like, ‘you need to write the book you want to read.’”

Nicole Cromer
Peter Twal is an engineer and poet. He presented at the conference.

Poets were popular as well. Peter Twal is an electrical engineer and poet who grew up liking to tinker with things. Peter had a presentation at the conference on poetry.

So, What’s Peter’s story?

Twal said, “When you think of engineering, it’s invention and revision and writing is the same to me. It’s about making something, realizing how it could maybe be better and trying to improve it. And then, eventually you have to let it go. You have to realize this is what it is and you move on to the next invention.”

For some who attended, it was in some ways a trip down memory lane. Aaron Feller has returned to ASU for a degree in biochemistry. He already has a BFA in creative writing and showed up at the conference because he likes to keep that part of himself alive.

So, What’s Aaron’s story?

Ashley Wilkins
Tom Maxedon/KJZZ
Ashley Wilkins is coordinator of the event.

Aaron said, “I think the creative writing world is different where you’re composing. You’re building something. You’re working in the opposite way and that’s even more applicable for me to biochemistry. I mean, I work in a lab where I’m building a protocol and I’m looking back on all of the methods that are normally used.”

Fiction or fact?

Poetry or prose?

Magic or reality?

So, what’s YOUR story?

You just have to write it.


In this extended Q&A outtake, KJZZ offers a series of unique one-on-one discussions with conference presenters from the perspective of someone who attended their sessions or sat in their offices to talk fondly about literature and how each are helping to celebrate it.

Q&A with presenters

In this second extended Q&A outtake, KJZZ hops into crowds of book buyers, chats up those enjoying the fountain in the courtyard of Old Main, and tries not to trip over mic cords on a walk up of the grand wooden staircase in the building to find out the stories behind those who came to be inspired.

Q&A with attendees

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