Whidbey Island

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Let me take you to an island.

It’s a beautiful, wooded island near Seattle, where the jagged peaks of the Olympic range form one horizon and the snowy summits of the Cascades form another. It’s an island where the mussels are plump and the beaches are made for solitary sunset walks.

But what sets this island apart from others in Puget Sound isn’t the views or the seafood or the sand. It’s writing.

Whidbey Island, Washington, is a place where the Chamber of Commerce hangs out a sign that says, Writers Welcome. It’s a place where the Lutheran Church hangs out a sign that says, God loves writers. It’s a place where the local sheriff – sharply creased trousers, brown twill jacket, pistol on his hip – is also the author of a crime novel.

Whidbey Island is a place where everyone from primary school kids to Boeing engineers enters a writer’s contest of some description, where high-schoolers meet retired lawyers at poetry slams, and where once a year, in early March, half the island turns into a major writer’s conference.

This year I spoke at the Whidbey Island Writer’s Conference. I was there along with other kid’s writers, editors, poets, agents, romance writers, self-publishing gurus, crime writers (including the local sheriff) and 250 participants from Indiana to Alaska.

From the early-morning talk on how to get published to the late-night poetry slam; from author school visits to consultations with agents, I was knocked out by the massive commitment to writing from islanders and visitors, alike.

But what really blew me away was the growing realization that all this – the conference, the contests, the concentration on writing in the schools- was the work of one woman. In addition to creating the annual conference and the island-wide culture of writing, this woman is a writer, herself and the mother of six kids.

I’ve long been a believer in the power of one, and Celeste Mergens, of Whidbey Island, Washington, upholds my belief. She is living proof that one person can have a huge effect on the world in which she lives.

This was the fourth year of the conference, and by now there are scores of volunteers organizing plane schedules, organizing accommodations, organizing school visits, organizing other volunteers. They all work hard, they’re all in love with writing, and they all credit Celeste with transforming their lives.

Celeste isn’t the only one who can change lives. Whether you go to Whidbey Island or not, whether you’re a writer or not, whether you ve ever organized anything bigger than a trip to the general store or not, hang on to the idea that one person can change the world.

And that person could be y-o-u.

This is Jules Older in Albany, Vermont, the S-o-u-l of the Kingdom.

–Jules Older is the author of more than 20 books for children and adults and is a passionate outdoors enthusiast. You can reach him at older@vpr.net.

If you want to learn more about Whidbey’s conference, go to Vermont writers conferences at www.whidbey.com/writers. To get the skinny on Vermont’s big writer’s conferences, call Chris Sims, the Membership Director of the League of Vermont Writers, at (802) 899-4507, or go to League of Vermont Writers at www.together.net/~trzepacz/lvw/index.html.

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