I’ve attended Calgary’s When Words Collide Festival for Readers and Writers every year since it began in 2011. That was the year I published my first novel, A Deadly Fall, butI didn’t attend to promote the book. I went as a fan of one of their special guest authors Robert J. Sawyer and because a friend coaxed me into going and WWC was an inexpensive, local event. When I arrived at the host hotel, I was amazed at the festival’s energy. The founders largely came from the science fiction and fantasy community and they know how to party. While WWC included all genres, it helped to understand Star Trek references. I attended several dynamic panels and presentations and did a shift at the book sale table, where I met some interesting people and sold copies of my new novel.
The following year, I volunteered to lead a dialogue workshop, which had a huge turnout. Buoyed by this success, the next year I volunteered to sit on a few panels. WWC is entirely volunteer-run and presented, although the special guest authors receive expense money. The relative equality between everyone attending creates a democratic atmosphere, even though the guest authors are the stars. A highlight for me every year is the opening night’s two-hour keynote addresses, where the five or six guest authors each introduce themselves and speak on whatever topic they want. Often the speeches are funny and/or thought provoking.
My involvement increased when I joined the WWC board and worked on developing panel ideas. We tried for topics that would appeal to readers of all genres and writers at every stage of the process, from learning the craft to finding a publisher to promoting their books. I met BWL publisher Jude Pittman at WWC 2017 when we chatted in the Merchants’ Room. After the festival, I sent her a query and soon became part of the BWL family.
BWL’s Nancy Bell and Jude Pittman at When Words Collide
Connections also occur at WWC social gatherings. The Saturday evening banquet sells out quickly thanks to the festival’s encouragement of costumes. Here I am (left hand side) with two other ladies in red at the Roaring Twenties theme banquet.
Then COVID-19 hit. WWC went online in August 2020 and continued with virtual conferences the following two years. I participated in panels and attended some virtual social events, but not as many as I had previously. Staring at a computer screen wasn’t the same as meeting in person. I left the board, feeling I didn’t have the tech skills to contribute much of value. Other board members dropped off and the festival’s main organizers ran out of steam. They decided to return to the in-person festival in 2023, but this would be the final year for When Words Collide.
Registration for WWC 2023 has reached its cap of 780 attendees, but this is due to 2020 and later registrations being carried forward to this year since the online festival was free. Spots are expected to open up, so it’s worth putting your name on the waitlist if you’re interested in attending. https://www.whenwordscollide.org/Registration/Am_I_Registered.php
I’m looking forward to the WWC finale on August 4-6 with bittersweet feelings, but this might not be a complete ending. Rumour has it another group is thinking of reviving the festival or creating something similar next year. This could give us even greater reason to celebrate When Words Collide’s wildly successful thirteen year run this summer. Hats off to you, WWC! It’s been grand.
Me with Special Guest Author Will Ferguson