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Presenters and Workshops

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Keynote Speaker, Author & Mentor: RUSSELL ROWLAND


Workshop 1: Creating Dramatic Tension

One of the key elements of writing, whether it's screenplays, novels, short stories, or plays, is to create a sense of dramatic tension that keeps the reader engaged in the story. The tools we develop to create this kind of dramatic tension are often the deciding factor toward finding a home for what we write. In this workshop, we'll discuss how to create characters and situations that bring a natural sense of drama into our writing. 


Russell Rowland has published seven books, which have been reviewed in such publications as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. His five novels all explore some aspect of the complicated dynamic that exists in Montana, with his Arbuckle trilogy focusing on the history of a ranch family based on Rowland's own ancestors. His non-fiction narrative, Fifty-Six Counties: A Montana Journey, is based on his tour of every county in Montana and led to Rowland hosting a radio show on his local NPR station. He also hosts a podcast, THE STATE OF MONTANA, that is focused more on politics in Montana. Rowland has an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University, and he lives in Billings.

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Playwright, Author & Actor: LEAH JOKI


Workshop 2: The Attentive Playwright

What distinguishes a play from any other form of literature?  Dialogue.  Author and Playwright, Leah Joki, believes that “you don’t have to be a good writer to be a good playwright.  You must however, be a good listener.”  Ms. Joki explores the art of creating authentic dialogue for characters through the power of listening.


Leah Joki (Artistic Director of No Joke Theater) is a graduate of UM and the Juilliard School of Drama. She devoted the majority of her life to prison theater as the only female Artist Facilitator in a men’s maximum-security prison.  Her arts program was profiled in the Los Angeles Times, American Theatre Magazine, and the LA Weekly. Leah recently performed her one-woman show, Prison Boxing, at Bangkok University, Thailand.  It was nominated for Best Solo performance in Los Angeles.  Her play The Poppovich’s was selected for MPN’s first Premiere Project. Leah’s writing credits include Hairball, Sheets, The Big Picture, The Bad Play, and The Year of Baldwin, as well as articles in Pacific Northwest Quarterly, SOUTHSOUND LIFESTYLES, and her memoir, Juilliard to Jail.

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Editor, Novelist & Mentor: DEBBIE BURKE


Workshop 3: 10 Tips for DIY Editing

Do your sentences ramble like a Montana logging road?

Does your point get lost like a sapling in old-growth forest?  

Is your dialogue duller than a blunt ax?

Learn to cut excess words with a scalpel, not a chainsaw. Rev up your writing with laser-focused nouns, vivid verbs, and dramatic dialogue. Discover tricks to proofread like a pro. Join us for a fun hands-on workshop in self-editing.


For more than two decades Debbie Burke has edited books, short stories, and articles by physicians, attorneys, military veterans, a rabbi, a Nigerian priest, and writers ranging from ages 10 to 90+.  Debbie writes the award-winning Tawny Lindholm Thriller series (8 books). When she's not killing people (on the page, that is!), she blogs for the popular site The Kill Zone, alongside renowned writing instructor James Scott Bell. Her articles appear in international publications, regional newspapers, and online. She's a columnist for 406 Woman magazine.  Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers.


Director of Publications, FarCountry Press/Sweetgrass Books: SAMANTHA STROM

Marketing/Publicity Director, FarCountry Press/Sweetgrass Books: HILARY PAGE


Workshop 4: Defining Your Audience

There is little more essential to publishing a book than knowing your audience. In this workshop, representatives from Farcountry Press and Sweetgrass Books will discuss how to define your audience and show how knowing this key piece of information should inform every step of the process.


Samantha Strom is a publishing professional, currently serving as Director of Publications at Farcountry Press and Sweetgrass Books. With a background in book acquisitions, editorial management, inventory management, bookselling, and magazine writing and editing, plus a graduate certificate from the Denver Publishing Institute, she brings nearly a decade of experience in different areas of the industry. For fun, she often writes screenplays and short stories, the most well-known being All or Nothing, a web series about college roommates, in which she also starred.


A seasoned marketing and publicity professional, Hilary Page brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the field. With a strong background in graphic design and social media management, Hilary’s career has been marked by her ability to coordinate and manage marketing efforts effectively. She is known for her excellent organizational, communication, and supervisory skills, all underpinned by a people-centric approach. Hilary’s dedication and proven track record in resource coordination and management have made her an invaluable asset throughout her career.

Author Readings

Additional submissions for the Author Readings at the 2024 Montana Writers Rodeo have ended as of April 13, 2024.  We appreciate your interest and encourage you to submit your work for the next MPN Readings Series.

Montana Writers Rodeo Ticket Prices

$95:     Conference Pass:  Provides complete access to all conference events.

$45:     Student Rate (with current student ID):  Conference Pass.

$60:     One Day Pass:  Provides complete access to all conference events on April 20.  

$30:     Student Rate (with current student ID):  One Day Pass to all conference events on April 20.

$20:     One Evening Pass: (April 19: Reception, Welcome, Keynote Address + Readings)

OR (April 20: Panel Discussion + Readings).

$35:     Dual Pass for both Evening Events + Readings:  April 19 & 20.

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