Maui wows writers at 7th scribe conference

Winners get direct H'wood face time

MAUI, Hawaii — Plucked from 1,100 entries in screenwriting and prose contests at the seventh annual Maui Writers’ Conference, the works of six scribes won honors Monday at the conclusion of the three-day gathering.

In the screenwriting competition, D. Clayton Wold of Polson, Mont., took first place for “The Investment,” based on his novel. Wold also won with the work at the current Breckenridge Film Festival and is a semifinalist in the Nicholl screenwriting fellowship competition of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

Second place went to Venice, Calif., literature professor A. Jay Adler, for “What We Were Thinking Of,” a work described by Oscar nominee Jeff Arch (“Sleepless in Seattle”) as a “mature, resonant and emotional script that showed the seeds of mastery.” In third place was Jon O’Neal of from Austin, Texas, for “Black Diamond.”

The Rupert Hughes Award for prose — a contest that encompasses fiction and narrative nonfiction — was won by “Stiletto,” from Diane Holt, a Sacramento writer of historical novels. David Meek, from Fair Oaks, Calif. took second place, for “Angle of Attack,” and “Killing Time in Paradise” by Maui scribe Chuck Hills was third.

First-place winners in each category received a check for $3,000 and a free pass to attend the 2000 conference as well as the six-day retreat that precedes it; second- and third-place finishers got $1,000 and $500, respectively, and a ticket to the next Labor Day weekend gathering. Winners also attracted attention from the dozens of agents, editors, publishers and Hollywood execs in attendance.

“Major deals get done here, even though it looks as though all you’re doing is having a mai-tai,” said Maui-based author Barbara Santos. Indeed, the conference’s outwardly casual face — almost everyone wears shorts or beachwear — is belied by close inspection of its schedule, which includes 80 seminars, workshops and speeches as well as professional consultation sessions along with book signings and social mixers.

For many writers, the Maui conference is the first opportunity they’ve had to pitch ideas, stories or screenplays in face-to-face meetings with agents or editors.

For most of the 1,250 attendees, the speeches by established authors such as James McBride (“The Color of Water”), Susan Isaacs (“Lily White”), Richard Paul Evans (“The Christmas Box”), Mitch Albom (“Tuesdays with Morrie”), Terry Brooks (“Sword of Shannara”), Robin Cook (“Coma”) and John Saul (“The Right Hand of Evil”) were the highlight of the weekend.

Industry professionals like producer Andy Cohen (“Captain Ron”), “Simpsons” writer Mike Scully, conference founder John Tullius and Publishers Weekly editorial director John F. Baker added to the mix.

There were also crowd-pleasing appearances by the likes of humorist/columnist Dave Barry and former standup comic Steve Oedekerk, who wrote and directed “Patch Adams” and “Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls.”

Applying the principle of tough love to a room packed with aspiring writers, Oedekerk dismissed the notion that anyone should be stymied by writer’s block, which he called simply “the fear of writing crap”: “Writing is about putting things that are brilliant and things that are crap side by side,” he said. “That”s why they created the magical delete key.”