Teens Can Write, Too!

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Teen Writer Conferences, Poetry, and Disability in Fiction: The Ch1Con Blog Tour

Ch1Con Banner

Hey everyone! As some of you may know, TCWT has close ties with Ch1Con, a young writers conference based in Chicago, IL; many of our awesome bloggers on this site also work for Ch1Con. The conference is currently open to registration for its 2015 session, which features YA authors Kat Zhang and Ava Jae and freelance editor Taryn Albright, and they are offering a discount to attendees who register early. More on that below.

Before I lose anyone: this post will be a bit long, and it’ll be broken up into three parts. First is an intro to the conference; then is an interview (covering all of the topics mentioned in the title of this post) with two of the people behind the scenes at Ch1Con; finally, there is a critique giveaway.

For those of you in the Chicago area (or who may be passing by Chicago in early August), I encourage you to read the “About Ch1Con” section below and to consider attending–lots of fantastic people are involved with making Ch1Con happen, and I’m confident that attending will be a really worthwhile experience. For those of you who aren’t in the Chicago area, though, you can scroll down to read the interview and enter the critique giveaway.

For more info, check out the Chapter One Young Writers Conference website (which, even if you can’t make it to the conference, is totally worth subscribing to), or follow them on Twitter (@Ch1Con).



[Bio courtesy of Ch1Con]

Founded in 2012, the first Chapter One Young Writers Conference (Ch1Con) took place in Chicago with six teenagers in attendance in person and countless others attending via an online live stream. It was an experiment limited to members of the Scholastic’s Write It community and their friends: Could a group of teenagers from across North America really get together and run their own conference? The answer soon became apparent: Yes. And so the conference was born!

As anyone who’s attended one knows, there are few events as enjoyable and productive for people in our field as writing conferences. With so many options out there, many specifically designed towards certain genres or groups, writers can almost always find a conference geared towards their needs. Together in a professional setting, those writers get to learn about the industry, workshop their own pieces, and experience the inspirational effect of being around other people like them.

Because the teen writing community is a particularly vibrant one, Ch1Con is proud to say they are the only writing conference by young writers, for young writers. Their team comprises a number of high school and college age writers at different experience levels in the industry, eager to create a unique experience for others like them. The conference, which has a subset focus on the young adult novel, brings teens together to hear from accomplished speakers of their own age, participate in professional workshops, and celebrate the influence young writers have on the world. With an atmosphere combining professional conference aspects with the fun social feel of a teen hangout, Ch1Con is a true no-miss experience.

This year, the conference will take place on Saturday, August 8th in the suburbs of Chicago, IL, in Arlington Heights. 2015 registration is currently open on the Ch1Con website for writers from a middle school to undergraduate level and at an early bird discount price of $39.99. Three speakers have been confirmed so far: headliner Kat Zhang, the bestselling author of the Hybrid Chronicles, Taryn Albright, better known as the Girl with the Green Pen, and Ava Jae, debut author of BEYOND THE RED (YA sci-fi coming out in 2016). As a special bonus, Ava Jae’s agent, Louise Fury of the Bent Agency, will open to queries only from conference attendees for up to thirty days after the event.

Between the awesome presentations and workshops, attendees will have the chance to participate in literary trivia games and giveaways, with prizes like professional critiques, signed books, and literary-themed jewelry! During downtime, all participants are free to explore the many sites of the Chicago area and to network with each other, establishing those vital writerly connections that help make careers and create lifelong friendships. There will also be a speaker panel open to any and all questions midway through the conference.

The 2015 conference will be held in the Courtyard Chicago Arlington Heights/South Marriot, with sessions from 8:30am to 4:30pm on Saturday the 8th of August. Tickets for transport and room reservations can be bought online with links on the conference’s Travel page. Early bird registration is currently open at this link with adult registration for those 18+ and youth registration (with parental/guardian consent) for those under 18.

So if you’re a writer from middle school to undergraduate level and you’re interested in this opportunity, register ASAP! The early bird discount ends May 31st and there are only thirty slots open. For more information and to join in on the Ch1Con community, check out the website and social media platforms for the conference:



Hey guys! Welcome to the blog! Could you tell us a little bit about your jobs at Ch1Con? 

Kira Budge: Thank you so much for having me!… here on this blog that I’m also now an editor for, haha. 😉 My name is Kira Budge and I’m the associate online administrator for Ch1Con, which means that I am heavily involved in our social media presence and that I organize and run the blog tour each year. I also consult on all kinds of things related to the management of the conference.

Ariel Kalati: Hello! I’m one of Ch1Con’s Creative Consultants. While that just sounds like a fancy title, I do actually do some useful work for Ch1Con. I help give advice about such decisions as “what is our poster going to look like” and “who should we contact as a potential speaker.” This involves a lot of hours chatting online with the rest of the Ch1Con team, trying to focus on figuring out conference decisions instead of making elaborate jokes about YA books. Additionally, I help run online events, like the Twitter chats and the monthly YouTube chats, all about writing and problems particular to young writers. It’s all really fun and I love being a creative consultant.

Why do you think people should attend Ch1Con? What can teens get out of conferences for young writers?

Kira Budge: The best part of Ch1Con, to me, has been getting to spend time with people who like the same things and are at a similar point in their lives as me. I’ve been able to establish such great friendships through the conference and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy when I’m there with everyone in person. We all relate so well to each other!

Ariel Kalati: I think this conference is extremely important for young writers. The two most important things for a young writer, in my opinion, are: one, writing as much as possible, and two, a community of other writers. Websites such as Ch1Con, TCWT, and others like Figment are amazing for developing this sort of community, but there’s nothing like a day or two in real life spending all your time with people who have the same interests as you- AND are the same age as you. Ch1Con provides really informative (and fun) sessions that teach young writers skills they may not be able to learn anywhere else, about writing, editing, publishing, and more. And unlike other writing conferences and sources of writing advice, it takes into account the particular struggles of being a teenager or young adult. I’m not saying that you’ll fail as a writer if you can’t attend this conference, but I might be saying that people who go to Ch1Con are cooler than people who don’t. I don’t know, I guess you’ll have to attend to find out. 🙂 (But seriously, if you really can’t attend, you can still get some of the experience through our website, chapteroneconference.com.)

Questions for Kira: 

You are really involved in promoting fair treatment in real life–and equal representation in books–of all kinds of marginalized groups. What kinds of representation do you think the Young Adult category in particular is lacking?

Kira Budge: Well, YA definitely still needs work on all kinds of representation! We’ve got to have a chance for every voice to be heard, for every story to be understand. Books and stories are all about learning to understand other people so that we can do better at being empathetic in real life. So it’s super important that we have diverse voices from racial, cultural, gender, religious, and sexuality perspectives. However, because I am both physically disabled and mentally ill, I personally focus more on encouraging and promoting representation of disability in YA lit. For resources in those other areas, you can check out We Need Diverse Books and similar initiatives.

As a disabled person, you are also an especially important voice in favor of better representation of disabled characters and authors. Are there any great books with realistic disabled characters that you recommend people read?

Kira Budge: For physical disability, I’m super into EARTH GIRL by Janet Edwards. It’s a very sci-fied up kind of disability, but all the concepts of ableism and discrimination are clear and well-done nonetheless. (Plus the MC just rocks it.) For mental illness, I really like IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY by Ned Vizzini and OCD LOVE STORY by Corey Ann Haydu, along with plenty of others. There are a couple of posts on my blog that have these kind of recommendations. If *you* readers could recommend some too, especially in the physical disability area, I would love to read them!

Is there anything you think able-bodied people should know about disability, whether in fiction or real life? Misconceptions many have? What can those privileged among us do to better support disabled authors? 

Kira Budge: Support for disabled authors looks like support for disabled people as a whole! Ableism is very intrinsic in our society, just like sexism and racism, and every time you assume that someone isn’t mentally ill or physically disabled just because “they don’t look it,” you’re buying into that. Stereotyping mental illness and joking about it, as is commonly done with OCD and ADD, is buying into that. Looking down on people for seeking the help they need for their mental illnesses is buying into it. Learn to listen to the stories coming from people with varied disabilities and mental illnesses and use what they tell you to become a more considerate and empathetic person. We’re each like any other person. We just have weaknesses in some areas that we need assistance with. (Please note — particularly for physical disabilities, if we need help, we’ll ask. Don’t be overly pushy about trying to help. Just listen, listen, listen.)

Questions for Ariel: 

I know you write a lot of poetry. Where do you get your inspiration? Any advice (or helpful resources you’ve found) for writers interested in writing poetry or verse novels? 

“Where do you get your inspiration” is the infamously hated question of all writers, but I’ll try to answer it. I mostly write poems about the natural world, lately, probably because I’m in a poetry class that focuses on poetry about nature. I usually find inspiration for those sorts of poems by just walking outside. You’d be surprised how much there is to write about if you seriously look at the world around you. I’m also in a slam poetry group, which creates a very different sort of poetry. My inspiration for slam poetry usually consists of me thinking about something that gets me kind of angry or emotional, and then writing a rant about it, but a rant that sounds poetic.

My advice for writers interested in writing poetry is that you have to be willing to remove lines that you love. When you write a poem, you end up putting in a lot of unnecessary stuff that detracts from the actual heart of the poem. Even if that stuff sounds so nice, be willing to delete it if you realize it weighs down the poem. Seriously. It could be the most poetic line ever, but if it’s ruining the poem, delete it. Additionally, one exercise my poetry teacher makes us do a lot which I find helpful is to read poems by other poets and then pick your favorite, try and figure out why you like it so much, and then try to imitate that quality in your own poems. All this stuff is true in prose as well, but it’s sometimes difficult to remember when you’re working in such a different medium.

What are some of your favorite poems?

My absolute favorite poem is “Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson. Besides that one, it’s tough to choose favorite poems rather than favorite poets. I really like Robert Frost, Jane Hirshfield, Louise Gluck, and Walt Whitman. Louise Gluck has a great poetry collection called “The Wild Iris” which consists of poems from the point of view of flowers. I recommend reading poetry collections or poetry magazines to find poems you love.


Thank you so much to Kira and Ariel for stopping by! You can find Kira on Twitter, Facebook, or her blog, and you can follow Ariel via her blog or her Twitter account. (Also, you know, they both write for TCWT–so you can find them both right here, too. 😉 )



Finally, Kira and Ch1Con founder Julia Byers have been kind enough to offer to each critique one person’s query letter or first chapter (whether it’s of a short story or a novel). To enter, all you have to do is fill out the Rafflecopter linked below (or, if you want to hop over now, it’s right here). Options for entering the giveaway include sharing this post somewhere online, visiting the Ch1Con site, and so on. Good luck! Let me know if you have any issues!



About Michael Waters

I'm Michael, I'm eighteen, and I blog about YA books for Barnes & Noble.

19 comments on “Teen Writer Conferences, Poetry, and Disability in Fiction: The Ch1Con Blog Tour

  1. Alyssa
    April 28, 2015

    Wow, that was a super detailed interview. Unfortunately, I’m miles away from Chicago, but you have 100% moral support from me! Really loved Kira’s thoughts on disability — I’ve yet to write a disabled character, but I think I’ll do it in the next ms. Just a quick question, although I know it might not be your expertise: what are your thoughts on portraying disabilities that aren’t so-called natural, i.e. injuries instead of disease?

    Hope is a thing with feathers is also one of my fav poems! Such stark beauty 😀

    • Kira Budge
      April 29, 2015

      Not 100% sure how to answer that! Of course every disability should be addressed and included, whatever the source. 🙂 Injuries cause tons of issues for people in all sorts of ways. Do you have any more specific questions?

    • Ariel Kalati
      May 1, 2015

      I’m glad you liked the interview! Hope is the thing with feathers really is a beautiful poem.

  2. themagicviolinist
    April 28, 2015

    This sounds like so. much. fun. 🙂 If our summer weren’t as hectic as it is, I would bug my parents until I convinced them to take me. I will definitely be watching out for the conference next year! (Can we be expecting posts about it and pictures on the blog , , , ?)

    I’ve actually read a few great books in the middle-grade genre about that! Wonder by R.J. Palacio ranks in my top favorite books of all time. It’s about a young boy with a facial deformity who goes to school for the first time. It’s told through several different perspectives and is a fantastic story about friendship and not judging a book by its cover. Also high up on my list is El Deafo by Cece Bell (a graphic memoir about a little girl who goes deaf) and Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper (a story similar to Wonder in its style, about a girl with Cerebral Palsy). I highly recommend all three.

    • Kira Budge
      April 29, 2015

      I love WONDER! Those others are great too! In middle grade, I also recommend MOCKINGBIRD by Katherine Erskine (I think that’s her name, haha.) And another YA I thought of is FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB. That’s a gorgeous read.

      And we haven’t organized anything for next year’s conference yet, but stay tuned!

    • Ariel Kalati
      May 1, 2015

      The conference is super fun! But if you can’t go, we’ll be putting posts about it on our own website at chapteroneconference.com.

  3. Ellie
    April 28, 2015

    The conference sounds awesome, wish I could go! Kudos to all who are putting their efforts into this! I honestly have never written a disabled character, so that’s something to think about for my next book. I do have a villain who is mentally ill in a way, though it’s caused by magic and is closer to a Gollum kinda thing. Interesting to write about from her perspective.

    • Kira Budge
      April 29, 2015

      That’s good too, although the trope of villains being mentally ill does forward concepts of ableism that can be dangerous. Don’t forget that heroes can have mental illness too. 🙂

      • Ellie
        April 29, 2015

        Thanks for the advice 🙂 … I will definitely try to work a few other disabled/mentally ill characters in on the good side to balance it out. I think one of my other (good) character’s personalities would fit nicely with him having ADHD or something similar(though that didn’t occur to me until now…weird).

      • Kira Budge
        May 1, 2015

        That’s great! I’m so glad you DID think about it. 🙂

  4. Jenny
    April 28, 2015

    This is a really great interview! The poetry advice about cutting lines, while heartbreaking, is true and possibly one of the best tips for writing poetry I’ve seen. And It’s Kind of a Funny Story and OCD Love Story are high up on my to be read pile. I also found that Jasmine Warga’s My Heart and Other Black Holes was a fantastic portrayal of mental illness.

    • Kira Budge
      April 29, 2015

      Aha, I read that one just recently! I’m glad you liked it. (And Ariel, I second her thoughts on the advice about cutting stuff. Thanks for that tip!)

    • Ariel Kalati
      May 1, 2015

      What can I say, I’m great at writing advice. 🙂

  5. Pingback: News and Stuff! | Julia the Writer Girl

  6. Heather
    April 30, 2015

    Oh! I wish I could go to Ch1Con. If only America weren’t so darn big. *shakes head*

    • John Hansen
      April 30, 2015

      I know, right? I feel the same way! 🙂

      • Ellie
        May 1, 2015

        Same here.

      • Kira Budge
        May 1, 2015

        Dude, I know. Even working for the conference, I have to fight tooth and nail to get to it from New Mexico! But it’s so lovely. ❤

    • Ariel Kalati
      May 1, 2015

      I know! Travelling to the conference is kind of a headache. Hope you can find a way to go there sometime in the future anyway.

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April 2015
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