CCA’s Creative Writing Club announces speaker line-up for 9th Annual CCA Writers’ Conference

Inspirational Speaker Abdi Nazemian
Inspirational Speaker Abdi Nazemian
(Marc OHrem-Leclef)

Canyon Crest Academy’s Creative Writing Club recently announced the speaker line-up for the 9th Annual CCA Writers’ Conference to be held Saturday, March 28. This event is the only free writing conference for high school students in the country.

Bestselling young adult author Gretchen McNeil will present the keynote address. McNeil is the author of several young adult novels for Balzer + Bray for Harper Collins including Posses, 3:59, Relic, I’m Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Get Even, Get Dirty, and Ten, as well as the horror/comedy novels #Murdertrending and #Murderfunding for Disney/Freeform. Her next novel, No Escape, hits shelves in the fall of 2020.

Keynote Speaker Gretchen McNeil
Keynote Speaker Gretchen McNeil

Ten: Murder Island, the film adaptation of Ten starring China Anne McClain (Descendants 2, Black Lightning) premiered on Lifetime in 2017. Get Even and Get Dirty have been adapted as the series Get Even for BBC/Netflix, coming in 2020.

This year’s Inspirational Speaker is Abdi Nazemian, author of two young adult novels, Like A Love Story and The Authentics. His novel The Walk-In Closet won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Debut Fiction. His screenwriting credits include the films The Artist’s Wife, The Quiet, and Menendez: Blood Brothers, and the television series The Village and Almost Family. He has been an executive producer and associate producer on numerous films, including Call Me By Your Name, Little Woods, The House of Tomorrow and Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood.

Over 200 high school students from all over San Diego County and neighboring areas are expected to attend this year’s conference.

Sophie Camilleri, president of the CCA Creative Writing Club noted, “We are very proud of this year’s line-up of speakers. We have New York Times bestselling authors of young adult novels, graphic novels and comic books, Hollywood screenwriters and producers, an amazing poet and performer, a literary agent, a college essay expert, a Comedy Central stand-up comic, an award-winning playwright, songwriters, and so much more!”

In addition to the keynote and inspirational speakers, attendees will be able to choose workshops from:

Livia Blackburne, the New York Times bestselling author of Midnight Thief (An Indies Introduce New Voices selection) and Rosemarked (A YALSA Teens Top Ten nominee), as well as their respective sequels. She will present Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Cecil Castellucci, the New York Times bestselling author of books and graphic novels for young adults including Shade, The Changing Girl, Boy Proof, Soupy Leaves Home, The Year of the Beasts, Tin Star, The Female Furies and Odd Duck. She will present Heroes and Villains.

Jonathan Maberry, a New York Times bestselling author, 5-time Bram Stoker Award-winner, and comic book writer. His vampire apocalypse book series, V-WARS, starring Ian Somerhalder (Lost, Vampire Diaries) premiered as a Netflix original series in 2019. He writes in multiple genres including suspense, thriller, horror, science fiction, fantasy, and action; and he writes for adults, teens and middle grade. He will present The Horror! The Horror!

Amy Spalding, the author of several novels for teens, including the bestselling The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles) and We Used to Be Friends. She will present Taking the Tragedy Out of LGBTQ Young Adult Fiction.

Gill Sotu, a multi-faceted artist weaving poetry, music, soul, humor, and thought provoking passion into captivating and memorable performances. He is a two-time Grand Slam Poetry Champion, two time Raw Performing artist of the year, and a three time TEDx San Diego presenter. He will present Poetry and Performance Toolbox.

Nick Zayas, a writer for both film and television. He spent three seasons as a writer on the TNT drama Major Crimes, and currently writes on the upcoming Star Trek: Picard from CBS: All Access. Last year, he sold his feature Time Central to Netflix, and also has a pilot script deal with AMC. He will present Writing for Film and TV.

Marivi Soliven, author of 17 books. Her debut novel The Mango Bride (Penguin, 2013) won Grand Prize at the Palanca Awards, the Philippine counterpart of the Pulitzer Prize, and has been translated into Spanish and Tagalog. To highlight the need for Own Voices stories, she organized Centering The Margins: Conversations with Writers of Color in March 2019. She will present Done in a Flash.

Christopher Hamilton is the CEO and Head of Faculty at Hamilton Education, which offers a full-range of educational services for students in grades 5-12 including test Prep, college counseling, AP help and more. He will present Six Secrets for Great College Essays.

Greg van Eekhout, author of eight novels. His work has nominated for the Nebula Award, the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, the Cybils Award, and was listed on the New York Public Library’s Best Books of 2019. He will present From Garbage to Gold.

T. Greenwood, award-winning author of 12 novels, including Keeping Lucy, Bodies Of Water, Where I Lost Her, and Rust & Stardust. She teaches creative writing at San Diego Writers, Ink and online for The Writers Center. She will present Plotting the Three-Act Structure.

Gordon Downs, a stand-up comedian and writer/consultant for Roast Battle LLC and Roast Battle Season 2 & 3 on Comedy Central, and a former head monologue writer for Fair Game with Brock Everett (Audience Network/DIRECTV) and staff writer for Truth & Iliza on FreeForm TV. He will present Stand-up 101: Everything you wanted to know about stand-up comedy but were afraid to ask.

Aleta Barthell, a playwright/screenwriter/teacher. Her play, Might Witches: Flight Into Fantasy, was a part of the New Village Arts Theatre’s “2019 Final Draft Festival.” She is a teaching artist with Playwrights Project and founder of the youth theater education program, Kids Act, at New Village Arts Theatre. She’ll present Where to Start? Beginning a Play.

Patricia Nelson, a literary agent with Marsal Lyon Literary Agency since 2014, representing young adult, middle grade, and select adult fiction. Her clients include award-winning and bestselling authors. She will present Getting Published 101.

James Raney, author of the Jim Morgan series and Lord Of The Wolves, is a two-time Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Finalist for Juvenile Fiction, and is the winner of the 2015 Writer’s Digest Book Award for YA/Middle Grade Fiction. He will present Fast and Furious: Writing Great Action Scenes.

Laura Preble, author of the new novel Anna Incognito and award-winning author of the young adult series, Queen Geek Social Club (Penguin/Berkley Jam). She will present Main Character Meet and Greet.

Kevin & Nancy Langdon, singer-songwriters and performing improvisors. They coach and teach improv and musical improv at local theaters and their own classroom in Kearny Mesa. They will present Writing Memorable Songs.

Kathy Krevat, author of the bestselling Chocolate Covered Mystery series and Gourmet Cat Mystery series, will present Let’s Plan a Murder (Mystery).

Students should check out the conference website at to register. Advanced registration is required.

In order to continue to provide this free experience to high school students, the CCA Creative Writing Club is looking for individual and corporate sponsors. Individuals can Sponsor a Student for as little as $25, or become a Gold Sponsor for more. Sponsors can email for more information on how to contribute.

The Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore will sell speakers’ books with a portion of the proceeds going to the conference.

The conference will take place in the Proscenium Theater and Media Center, Canyon Crest Academy, 5951 Village Center Loop Road, San Diego, CA 92130. Registration is required.