5 tips for pitching to agents: Jessica Sinsheimer

Jessica Sinsheimer, with Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, shares 5 tips for meeting agents.

SinsheimerJessica Sinsheimer has been reading and campaigning for her favorite queries since 2004. Now an agent at the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, she’s known for #MSWL, ManuscriptWishList.com, #PubTalkTV-and for drinking far too much tea. Always on the lookout for new writers, she is most excited about finding picture books, YA, MG, upmarket genre fiction (especially women’s fiction, romance, and erotica, as well as thrillers and mysteries) and-on the nonfiction side-psychology, parenting, self-help, cookbooks, memoirs, and works that speak to life in the twenty-first century. She especially likes highbrow sentences with lowbrow content, smart/nerdy protagonists, vivid descriptions of food, picture books with non-human characters, and justified acts of bravery. You can follow her on Twitter at @JSinsheim.

Jessica had a great time as a member of our 2011 faculty and said, “I’ll return any time!” So, welcome back, Jessica, to MWW17!  We asked her for tips for pitching to her . (Hint: She said the tips apply to all agents.)

5 Tips: 

Remember, agents are not robots.

I always appreciate when people acknowledge that I’m a person. Usually an undercaffeinated person who’s happy to meet lovely writing people, but a person, nonetheless, and an introvert at that. A simple “Hi, how are you? Hey, you’ve got five cups of tea there–my daughter loves English Breakfast” will go a long way toward making me like you and set you apart from the last meeting. It takes about 20 seconds and keeps me comfortable, present, and open to your work. Keep in mind that I interact with thousands of writers a year. I want each interaction to be as human, pleasant, and present as possible.

 

Think conversation, not monologue. 

Here are the things I’m most likely to ask, so you can prepare: 1) Where did you get the idea? 2) What experience do you have with the topic? 3) Who is the ideal reader for your book? 4) How is this different from other works in your genre? 5) What are your favorite books? 6) What do you do in your spare time?

 

Do your homework.

Research, research, research. It will not only ensure that you’re prepared, but calm your fears of awkward silence. Find out not only what’s on my  ManuscriptWishList.com  profile and #MSWL feed, but also some of my recent projects, especially the ones similar to yours. Read one, if you can–or, if you must, 🙂 read the free samples online. Find interviews I’ve done (just Google “Jessica Sinsheimer interview”). Visit the agency website. And knowing things like my favorite caffeinated beverage (coffee, tea, or coffee in tea–thank you, dirty chai latte), weekend activity (yoga, kayaking, and reading), and fluffy animal (I’m partial to orange cats and samoyeds) can help, too. These are all things you can use to fill any silence, so you don’t have to worry.

 

The agent and writer can be friends. 

Remember that we want to help you. Agents need writers, too. Don’t go in feeling like you’re pitching investors. Instead, think of it as a conversation about great books with a friend–it just happens to be your book, and an agent.

 

Be calm and pitch on.

Don’t be nervous. I know it’s scary, but I’m seriously 5’2″ and like to keep people around me feeling good. You can listen to the   Manuscript Academy podcast   to hear how I interact with writers and agents–that’s on iTunes and Soundcloud, and totally free. You’ll probably be less scared when you hear how peppy I am. If you want to practice, you can get plenty of one-on-one feedback on your query and first page with the new Manuscript Academy Ten Minutes With An Expert program–starting April 12, you can have ten-minute conversations one-on-one with agents and editors from home. See ManuscriptAcademy.com/ten

*** Exciting news! 

Jessica is bringing her popular the  PubTalk TV  to MWW17. On Saturday, July 22, 2017, from 3:45-4:45, she’s live streaming a session on-site with Summer Heacock (MWW planning member extraordinaire and debut author of The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky), Roseanne Wells (agent with the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency), and Monica Odom (agent with Bradford Literary Agency).

NYT Bestselling coming to MWW17 | Angie Thomas

If you’ve ever wanted to meet a debut novelist who started on the bestseller lists right out of the gate, come to Midwest Writers Workshop in July!

Since The Hate U Give released in February, Angie Thomas has been super busy! It turns out an extensive book tour and giving tons of interviews will do that to a person’s schedule.

But recently, we caught up with her in London and she gave us a quick email interview.

Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Myers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and was published on February 28, 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg attached to star. Follow Angie on social media:  Twitter: @acthomasbooks / Website:  AngieThomas.com

MWW: Your debut novel, The Hate U Give, was sold at auction with 13 publishers competing for the highest bid, and interest worldwide. Did that prepare you for the success you’ve had since its release? How are you feeling and what are you thinking after 6 weeks at #1 on the New York Times Bestselling list?

AT: I was totally not prepared for this. It’s surreal and a dream come true.

MWW: You’ve said that you thought about this story for a few years and I know you were in a creative writing program at college. What helped you the most in writing a compelling story?

AT: The thing that helped me the absolute most was to decide to write it for myself and no one else.

MWW: When you come to Midwest Writers Workshop this summer, you’ll talk about your debut and also about diversity in books. Do you have a few tips for writing a diverse book that resonates?

AT: (1) Remember that not every story is your story to tell, and that’s okay. (2)  Diversity is not a trend. Approaching it this way dehumanizes marginalized people. (3)  If you’re writing an identity outside of your own, sensitivity readers are a must.

MWW: Your agent, Brooks Sherman, is returning to MWW. What’s an insider secret on how to impress him? Or what is a no-no?

AT: He doesn’t like issue books, but great books with issues. Also, he’s the coolest Slytherin you will ever meet.

MWW: How do you know Becky Albertalli, who is also coming to MWW17?

AT: Becky and I consider ourselves soul mates – we share the same agent, same editor, same publishing house, same film producers, and sometimes the same thoughts despite our different opinions on Oreos.

How about some quick thoughts:

MAC or PC?

PC though a MAC may be in my future

Pantser or plotter?

A bit of both fortunately and unfortunately.

Early bird or night owl?

Night owl for sure

Scrivener or Word software?

Just got Scrivener and love it!

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Speaking of Scrivener, MWW17 has you covered this summer. Dee Romito is returning to present “Getting to Know Scrivener” Part I Intensive Session – a full day’s instruction on the amazing writing software everyone’s talking about.

The Scrivener software is inexpensive (under $50), although there is a steep learning curve. Many people agree with Angie that the software is well worth the effort to learn. Let MWW help you speed up the process with our one day intensive session.

4 Ways to Love Scrivener, by Dee

Get organized.

Keep all your chapters, scenes, research, and links right at your fingertips. It’s all in one place!

Move around quickly.

With a simple click, go from Chapter 1 to Chapter 20 to plotting notes to research. No more scrolling or opening multiple files.

Multiple ways to work.

Write in the editor, or switch over to corkboard or outline view quickly and easily.

Go for your goals.

Set a word count goal for your manuscript and current session. You’ll see it keep track and change color as you get closer to your goal. 🙂
Come and meet Angie, Dee, and the rest of our fantastic faculty this summer!

Register now !

Novel to TV series | Screenwriter Nina Sadowsky | MWW17

Midwest Writers Workshop 2017 is offering a NEW Part I Intensive Session on “Screenwiriting,” and we’re pleased to welcome screenwriter and novelist Nina Sadowsky.

This class will provide an in-depth overview of writing for film and television. A mixture of lecture, in-class exercises and screenings will give the participants an understanding of how material is pitched, developed and produced in Hollywood as well as tips for successful screenwriting.

Spots to Nina’s intensive session are limited and we expect this one to fill up fast.

Register now!

A New York City native, Nina R. Sadowsky is an entertainment lawyer (in recovery) who has worked as a film and television producer and writer for most of her career.  Just Fall, published by Ballantine in March 2016 is her first novel, and is now in development as an original series for STARZ. She has written numerous original screenplays and adaptations and done rewrites for such companies as The Walt Disney Company, Working Title Films, and Lifetime Television.

She served as President of Production for Signpost Films, a film financier and foreign distributor, where she worked on such projects as the Academy Award nominated “The House of Sand and Fog,” starring Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley. Prior to joining Signpost, she served as President of Meg Ryan’s Prufrock Pictures for over five years. During her tenure, Prufrock landed first look feature deals with Fox 2000 and Castle Rock Entertainment and an overall long-form television deal with Polygram/Universal Television.

Sadowsky served as executive producer for the hit film “The Wedding Planner,” starring Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey for Intermedia and Sony, produced “Desert Saints,” an independent film starring Kiefer Sutherland which premiered on Cinemax, and has served as executive director for numerous other films.

She is also currently serving as adjunct faculty at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts program, teaching both writing and producing. Her students have been the recipients of many awards and accolades including best scripted series at the College Television Awards and inclusion in the Cannes Film Festival Shorts Corner. Sadowsky is also currently serving as a mentor for the Humanitas Prize’s New Voices Program, and is a member of Humanitas’ Woolfpack, an organization of women writers, directors and showrunners.

MWW: What’s it feel like to have your debut novel being adapted for a television series?

NS: It’s thrilling that we sold Just Fall to STARZ, particularly as premium cable allows creators to push the limits. I’m especially excited that the network wanted me to write the pilot as they felt the work was so particular to my voice. As far as I know, the title will remain the same. And I wish I had a timetable, but I don’t!

MWW: You’ve said the opening scene of your psychological thriller was inspired in real life when your husband was lying in bed with one arm flung over his head. You imagined him dead, just for a moment. Why do you think people like yourself, a happily married woman and a mother, write and read dark, crime-filled stories?

NS: Actually, I am a mother of a 21 year old daughter and a 18 year old son and stepmother to other kids (one girl, one boy) now 22 and 20 years old. And the incident you correctly describe happened shortly after we blended the two families (the kids were all teenagers then).  Blending the family created all kinds of tensions between my husband and I that we never anticipated.  We believed “love will beget love” and were gobsmacked when our rosy predictions weren’t fulfilled. It got me thinking about all the couples who throw themselves into love and marriage and then have to get past the romantic idealism and slog through whatever real life throws at them.  In writing Just Fall, I wanted to take those very ordinary, universal feelings and inflate them to a thriller level.  As to why I like to write or read about crime, it comes from my desire to understand human nature.  Why we connect with other people. Why we don’t. Why societies create norms of behavior and what it means to an individual to step out of those norms. When is it right to do the wrong thing? Wrong to do the right thing? I’m trying to make sense of the confusing moral world that surrounds us and I think readers are too.

MWW: What are some ways your work as a film and television producer have influenced your novels? Might novelists benefit from learning screenwriting techniques in your course at MWW as well?

NS: I’d say the biggest influence is in the way I start any scene. I close my eyes and I think about what each production department would need to do in order to bring a scene to life. What are people wearing? What’s the quality of the light? What does the location look like and how do its details reveal something about the characters in the production design? These questions help me envision any scene for a book or a screenplay in a way that serves the narrative.  It’s my philosophy as a film maker that every inch of the frame should contribute to the story, so I think similarly about writing a scene in a book. Every element should be meaningful to furthering character, plot, theme and/or story. And I definitely think novelists can learn from screenwriting techniques. While film and television have highly codified and specific structures, good storytelling is good storytelling!

MWW: Just Fall seemed to be about taking risks as a writer, from the overall structure, to the sentence structure, to setting description, to characters that behave in unexpected ways. Do you have a tip or five on why authors wanting to break in or break out should take risks?

NS: Truth be told, when I started Just Fall, my sole hope was to finish it. It was a personal exercise borne out of the personal marital tension I was wrestling with as well as some frustration with the film and TV business. Because my expectations were so minimal, I felt very free. I played with structure partly because I wanted to shuck off the highly rigid structures of film and TV. I also wanted to play with structure as a way of revealing character, as opposed to solely using it to advance plot.  I subverted the stereotypes common to the thriller genre like the “damsel in distress.” I describe the writing of the novel as sort of a “howl,” one that came from a very deep place. No one was more shocked than I was when I exposed the book and very quickly found myself selling it to Ballantine/Random House!  I think one must always take risks.  Writing for the “perceived market” or writing something to which one doesn’t feel authentically connected is in my mind a mistake. Be bold or go home!

MWW: Tell us something distinctive about your writing process?

NS: I create an index card for every scene or chapter with a one line description about the scene. This reminds me to keep the main thing the main thing when I go to write.

MWW: As an adjunct professor in screenwriting at UCLA, what mistakes do students make? Besides reading Just Fall, is there a craft book you recommend your MWW students read in preparation for your course?

NS: I love SAVE THE CAT, which is a great primer on structure. Also when writing for film and TV one must adhere to proper format (if no other reason than improper formatting pegs you as an amateur). And if my students can read Just Fall before the course, I will be able to discuss how we approached its adaptation for TV.

MWW: Anything you would like to add?

NS: I’m looking forward to the MWW!

Quick hits:

1) Plotter or pantser (no pre-planning)?

A bit of both. I start usually with a theme and a visual and then begin to work up characters. I rewrite myself constantly, rewriting the last day’s work before I start on the new day’s work. And outline only once I’m deep into the first draft.

2) Critique group/hired editor or go it alone?

I have a couple of trusted readers, but my brilliant editor at PRH is the one I rely on the most.

3) Scrivener writing software, Microsoft Word or other?

Microsoft Word

4) Early bird or night owl?

Best in the morning, but can write all day and night if on a deadline!

5) Fast, messy drafter or slow and methodical?

Fast. Gut it out. Don’t obsess on every word. Writing is rewriting!

 

NOW AVAILABLE from Ballantine/Random House
Just Fall

COMING SOON also from Ballantine/Random House

The Burial Society

www.ninarsadowsky.com

https://www.facebook.com/nina.sadowsky

https://twitter.com/sadowsky_nina

MWW17 welcomes back thriller author John Gilstrap

Midwest Writers is delighted that John Gilstrap is returning to teach at MWW17!

John is the New York Times bestselling author of the Jonathan Grave thriller series. Two of the first three in the series were nominated for ITW’s prestigious Thriller Award, and for Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus Award. His novels include Friendly Fire, Nick of Time, Against All Enemies, End Game, Soft Targets, High Treason, Damage Control, Threat Warning, Hostage Zero, No Mercy, Nathan’s Run, At All Costs, Even Steven, Scott Free and Six Minutes to Freedom.  Four of his books have been purchased or optioned for the Big Screen.  In addition, John has written four screenplays for Hollywood, adapting the works of Nelson DeMille, Norman McLean and Thomas Harris.  He will co-produce the film adaptation of his book, Six Minutes to Freedom, which should begin filming in 2017.

During  MWW17, John will teach a Part I Intensive Session “Adrenaline Rush: Writing a Thriller,” a day-long seminar on the construction of intelligent commercial fiction. What makes for a strong plot? How do you take cardboard characters and give them life on the page? Through lively lectures and writing exercises, students get a peek at the skeleton that gives structure to the stories that keep us reading long into the night.

We caught up with John recently and asked him about what he’s teaching for MWW17.

Tell us “Three Things You Should Know” related to your intensive, “Adrenaline Rush: Writing a Thriller”:

You’ll look at writing a different way at the end of the class than you did at the beginning

 

You should come prepared to do some writing exercises.

 

You should let me know if there’s one particular topic that you’d be disappointed if we didn’t explore.

 

Do you have a tip for writers who are feeling stuck on a manuscript? How do you get yourself unstuck?

Don’t walk away from it until you’ve written your way out of the corner.

 

Try switching over to pen and paper. That’s what I do and it always gets me unstuck.

 

And what are your answers for some just-for-fun questions?

Mac or PC? PC

Early-bird or night-owl? Night owl

Scrivener or a different writing software or plain old Word? Plain old Word

Coffee or tea? Coffee!! (I hate tea. It always reminds me of the times I was sick as a kid.)

What are your Part II sessions?

  • Worst Advice Ever: Write What You Know – The real trick is to write what interests you.  This session presents strategies for getting in touch with experts who can help you, and where to find answers to your most perplexing questions.  Hint: Knowing a little bit is fine. The rest is about faking it.  We’ll talk about that, too.
  • Bangs and Booms 101: What Writers Need to Know About Firearms and Explosives
  • Buttonhole Topic – Presentation Skills for Authors

Register for mww17 today!

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Praise for John Gilstrap and the Jonathan Grave Series:

“Gilstrap is one of the finest thriller writers on the planet.”  – Tess Gerritsen
“Gilstrap is a master of action and drama.”  – Gayle Lynds
“Rocket-paced suspense.”  – Jeffery Deaver
“A great hero, a really exciting series.”  – Joseph Finder
Read more about John and his writing in this article in Publisher’s Weekly. 

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Check out John on social media!

Facebook: johngilstrapauthor

Twitter: @JohnGilstrap

Website

Q&A with Liz Pelletier, CEO & Publisher of Entangled Publishing

Liz Pelletier co-founded Entangled Publishing in 2011. Over the past four years, Entangled has gone from a small start-up to a bestselling romance publisher, with more than 17 NYT bestsellers and 39 USA Today bestsellers. Her out-of the-box approach to everything from pricing strategies to marketing to editorial allows Entangled to be both disruptive and agile within a dynamic publishing landscape. Liz continues to disrupt the publishing business with her launching of Entangled Music in 2015, where stories come to life through the extension of music.

Midwest Writers committee member Cathy Shouse interviewed Liz about coming to 43rd writers’ conference this week, July 21-23, 2016, in Muncie, IN.

MWW: Which publishing lines of Entangled will you hear pitches for?

LP: I’m happy to listen to pitches for any Entangled imprint.

MWW: How should someone best prepare to pitch to you? Should they bring a couple of pages or anything with them? Manuscript should be finished?

LP: The best way to prepare to pitch to me is to relax. Unless your book’s genre is really far off from what we publish, I’m going to request a full regardless of the pitch. Some people have a real talent for pitching a book verbally that doesn’t match the writing, and others fumble through their pitch but have an amazing voice in print. I can’t really tell if a book is going to be great until I read it! So relax, start with word count, genre, and if the book is completed or not, and just tell me the very basics of the conflict and what you love most about the story. The rest we can figure out after I read your manuscript!

MWW: Is there any story genre or sub that is saturated/not appropriate? (Is a mystery without a romance thread acceptable, for example?)

LP: We’re really focused on stories with a strong romantic arc at Entangled. However, we are actively acquiring women’s fiction with a romantic element at this time as long as the main protagonist is 35yo or younger and the tone is humorous. Paranormal is still a bit saturated, but we are looking for vampires and shifters again! Beyond that, I’m just looking for a great story that I can get lost in.

MWW: You were co-founder of Entangled Publishing in 2011, and by 2013, you started collaborating with MacMillan and St. Martin’s. What did it feel like to have this said about you? John Sargent, Macmillan’s CEO, said, “We are hugely impressed with Liz Pelletier’s vision and what she has accomplished in such a short time. We found her out-of-the-box approach to publishing incredibly exciting and saw potential to work together with her on several levels. We think Liz and Entangled have found a new way forward and we think we can help build on that remarkable success.”

LP: John Sargent’s comments were a highlight in my career thus far. He’s truly a visionary in the publishing world, and I’ve been delighted to try to blend a traditional approach to publishing with Entangled’s more out-of-the box approach to digital. Our partnership with Macmillan has been amazing, and we look forward to continuing the relationship for many years to come.

MWW: How would you briefly define episodic writing? How much of a problem is it in manuscripts you see and what’s the cure?

LP: I don’t mind episodic writing in certain genres, the writer just needs to be aware that end of scene hooks are vastly important in today’s saturated market. So ending a scene with a pretty bow, as would happen in most scenes of this style, simply is not strong enough to create a bestseller in the romance market. In addition, stringing together a series of small conflicts that can be resolved within the scene is a good way to lose the attention of a reader as there is no main, overarching and organic conflict pulling the reader forward in the story written as episodic fiction. Chicklit, as an example, can do quite well in this form of writing, however one would still need to address a larger, big picture conflict as well as end of scene hooks to create an unputdownable read.

And just for fun:

Twitter or Facebook?  Facebook

Print or e-book? ebook

Disney or Universal? Disney

Writing platform or story? STORY

As an editor, if you can’t have both, will you choose writing style over content or vice versa? Writing style

In addition to hearing pitches, Liz’s sessions include:

  • “Editor Q&A with April Osborn”
  • “How to Edit a Bestseller”

Coming to MWW16, YA author Natalie C. Parker

Natalie C. Parker is the author of the Southern Gothic duology Beware the Wild and Behold the Bones (HarperTeen), as well as the editor of the forthcoming young adult anthology, Triangles: The Points of Love (HarperTeen). She is the founder of Madcap Retreats, an organization offering a yearly calendar of writing retreats and workshops. In her not-so-spare time, she works as a grant coordinator for the University of Kansas, where she runs writing workshops for tribal college students in STEM disciplines. 

Natalie will team teach the Part I “Building the YA Novel” Intensive Session with Julie Murphy.

MWW committee member Shelly Gage recently interviewed Natalie about her sessions and her writing.

SG: What should we expect from your sessions at MWW and how will they be structured?

NCP: Each of my sessions with be co-taught with the illustrious Julie Murphy. As we considered what we were best equipped to offer, we knew our focus would be on Young Adult genres and we settled on the intimate places where prose becomes power — single pages. We are both very interested in writing that takes the reader forward by leaps and bounds in the course of a single paragraph, page, or chapter.

Our sessions will be a blend of close analysis and practical application. We’ll study passages that represent voice and world building and character, and then we’ll challenge each other with prompts and exercises.

There will also be an abundance of Magic Mike references and possibly candy because what’s a writing workshop without a double dose of sugar?

SG: What achievement are you most proud of and why?

NCP: Madcap Retreats. Last year, I started a small business focused on creating writing retreats for aspiring and established writers. Almost a full year later, we’ve hosted five incredible events and have twice as many on the horizon.

The venture grew out of the first retreat I ever attended as an unagented, star-in-my-eyes writer. Having access to authors who were established in their careers and willing to talk about it was invaluable to me. I came away from that experience determined to recreate it for as many writers as possible. And that’s exactly what I’m doing with Madcap.

SG: How have conferences influenced your life and career (assuming that they have)? What writing tip or two has had the most positive impact on your career?

NCP: I didn’t attend my first writing conference until after I found my agent, but I was immediately taken by the possibilities for creative, constructive community. If I could give my younger self some advice, it would be to find a local writers’ conference and be brave!

The writing tip that continues to comfort and challenge me is this: break the rules. I have always bristled at the notion that there are do’s and don’ts when it comes to creating fiction. Do use dialogue tags, don’t use adverbs, do start close to the action, don’t open with a dream sequence. Hearing those things repeated again and again has always inspired me to find the exceptions. At some point, I realized that’s what I wanted out of my own writing — to create something that operates under its own set of rules.

SG: I really enjoyed the way you handled the supernatural elements in your books. My husband and I are real-life ghost hunters and the Clary stories reminded me of urban legends we’ve run into in our research, but they were also very grounded in Sticks. How much research did you do into the supernatural, or did you have personal experiences to draw upon?
NCP: As a kid, I was desperately in love with ghost stories and collected as many as I could get my hands on. But I also lived in a neighborhood with one house that was said to be haunted. It was a large house that pre-dated our Virginia subdivision with a wilting barn and a huge lawn that backed up to the Elizabeth River. And since I am a sagittarindor, I took (take?) every excuse to drag my friends on adventures. Especially adventures that might end up with ghosts. Double especially adventures that might result in a story about ghosts.
I can’t say that I ever successfully tracked down a real ghost, but I certainly crafted dozens of scenarios in my head. Many of my ghost stories come from the moments when I crouched in a dark surrounded by my friends and the destroyed walls of a barn, waiting for the noise that would send us running in terrified delight.
To be very honest, I’ve always felt a little like Candy in Behold the Bones–willing but maddeningly unable to see the ghosts that might be around me.

 

SG: Sterling’s voice was one of my favorite elements of Beware the Wild, and I loved the dynamic between Sterling and her friends, especially her relationship with Candace. I was delighted to find that you’d put out a sequel, and excited to see that the new story was from Candace’s perspective. She was such a forceful personality from the start. Did you know from the start that you would write a second book from her POV or did the character step up and demand her own book?  That seems like something Candy would do. 🙂
NCP: I wrote Beware the Wild as a stand alone and didn’t know that I was going to be able to write another story in Sticks until the time came to pitch my second book. But as soon as that possibility opened up, I knew it would be Candy’s voice at the helm. As a girl who was raised in Virginia by Mississippi parents, I love digging into tales about southern girls. Candy was equally a pill and a treat to write (and that’s just the way she likes it).
SG: Speaking of characters who may demand a book of their own, is there any possibility of a third story from Abigail’s POV?  Is there more to explore related to the Shine and the Swamp?
NCP: If there is ever an opportunity for me to return to Sticks, Abigail’s story is ready and waiting!
SG: If not a return to the Swamp, what is next for you?
NCP: I’m currently in the midst of editing my very first anthology filled to the brim with all sorts of love triangles! It’s been an incredible project to work on with 15 other Young Adult authors contributing in every genre imaginable. We’re working on the title now. It’s set to come out in fall 2017, and it’s going to break/ mend/ explode your heart.
Thank you so much for this incredible interview! I’m so excited to be joining MWW this year!

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Natalie’s (and Julie’s) Part II sessions include:

Agent/Author Relationships Panel Julie Murphy/Natalie Parker & Molly Jaffa, Amy Reichert & Rachel Ekstrom, Uwe Stender/Brent Taylor & Summer Heacock

Voice/Dialogue – Julie Murphy & Natalie C. Parker. Voice is the lifeblood of every story. You’ve either got it or you don’t. Some would even say it can’t even be taught. Join Natalie C. Parker and Julie Murphy as they unlock key secrets and tricks to finding and nailing your narrator’s voice.

Word by Word: What Your First Line Says About Your Book – Julie Murphy and Natalie C. Parker. We know a good first line when we hear one, but we don’t always stop to consider what makes it good. In this session, we will evaluate a series of first lines for the promises they make about the novel to follow.

 

Meet Karma Brown, popular Women’s Fiction author

Karma Brown is a National Magazine Award-winning journalist, freelance writer, and author of the international bestseller (and listed as one of The Globe & Mail’Top 100 books for 2015) Come Away With Me (Mira/HarperCollins). She spent her debut year blogging at The Debutante Ball, and is a proud member of the Tall Poppy Writers group. A former marketing director and copywriter, Karma now spends her days writing fiction in coffee shops, coloring (outside the lines) with her daughter, and perfecting her banana bread recipe. She’s also an avid runner, skier, and bucket list chaser, who believes coffee cures all. Karma lives just outside Toronto, Canada with her family. Her second novel, The Choices We Make, hits shelves July 12, 2016.

MWW committee member Shelly Gage recently interviewed Karma about her MWW sessions.

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MWW: What should we expect from your sessions at MWW and how will they be structured?

KB: In our Women’s Fiction session Amy E. Reichert and I will discuss the genre’s definition and scope, common (and often overused) tropes, and what makes Women’s Fiction such a vital part of the publishing landscape. The workshop will explore different writing styles seen in Women’s Fiction, tips for your own writing, and ideas for helping your story stand out–including characterization, pacing, and conflict. We’ve also asked attendees to do a bit of pre-work, which is to read Forever, Interrupted and Maybe In Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid, who we’ll be using as one example of how variable Women’s Fiction can be. The session will be interactive and hands-on, meaning you won’t have to listen to us drone on as though we’re delivering a lecture! It’s meant to be a fun yet intensive workshop, with significant takeaways for those writing within this genre. [NOTE: STILL TIME TO REGISTER AND TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS: For those with complete story ideas, you’re welcome to submit a 2 page, single-spaced synopsis to Karma and Amy, along with your first 250 words by July 1 (midwestwriters@yahoo.com/subject line: Women’s Fiction Intensive). All submitted synopses and writing samples will be given feedback, and a few will be discussed in class.]

MWW: What achievement are you most proud of and why?

KB: Outside of my marriage and becoming a mother (a major achievement as we had an extraordinary path to parenthood, which involved cancer and  gestational surrogacy  (http://www.redbookmag.com/life/mom-kids/features/a44046/my-sister-was-my-surrogate-and-i-am-a-mother-because-of-her/), I would say seeing Come Away With Me on the bookstore shelves (and bestseller list!) is the thing I’m most proud of. Whenever someone tells me how lucky I am to be an author and writer, I like to point out that luck had little to do with it (but thank you!) — that book showcases a lot of hard work, frustration, rejection, and grit.

MWW: What writing tip or two has had the most positive impact on your career?

KB: There are two writing tips that have stuck with me over the years: one,  you can’t edit a blank page (this seems to be attributed to a number of authors, but the first time I heard it was from Jodi Picoult); and two,  write every day. This last one is from Stephen King, whose memoir and writing craft book On Writing remains my favorite, and the one I go to whenever I need a boost. I’m fairly diligent about setting my alarm for a 5 a.m. wake up call, especially when I’m heavy into drafting, and knocking out a thousand words or so before everyone else gets up. It keeps me sane (as long as I have coffee) AND keeps the momentum going.

Mac or PC?

Mac. I can’t even use a PC anymore. My MacBook Air and I have a serious relationship (the keys are basically illegible because the letters have been scratched off from so much typing), and I don’t even like other people to touch it.

Plotter or Pantser?

I like to call myself a “Plantser” – part plotter, part pantser. I create a fairly in-depth synopsis before I even start writing, and then map out the chapters and scenes using a writing tool called Scrivener (there is nothing better for drafting a book, though I do final edits and revisions in Word). But once I have this roadmap I allow myself some freedom, and see where the characters take me. Also, I never have the end sorted out until I’m about two thirds of the way through the book.

Early bird or night owl?

I used to be a night owl, but then I had a child and she’s the quintessential early bird (she used to wake up at 4 a.m., EVERY SINGLE DAY). She trained me to get up before the sun and birds, and I realized it was the perfect time to write. So now I’m an early bird and I can’t imagine going back to late night writing … everything feels so much more manageable in the morning, as long as there’s a lot of coffee.

Coffee or tea?

*See above!

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Karma’s Part II sessions include:What to Expect When You’re Expecting a (Book) Baby –  Taking a book from SOLD to shelf can be a long process, filled with plenty of unknowns, hard labor, and thrilling milestones. Tips and insights for what to expect through (and beyond) the debut year.
Slaying the Synopsis – Tips and tricks for how to write a killer synopsis that gets the job done…without losing your mind, or your creative energy, while you do!

Q&A with Kelly O’Dell Stanley

Kelly O’Dell Stanley is full of doubt and full of faith. In 2013, Kelly’s essay “Amazing Grace” won the Writer’s Digest Inspirational Writing Competition, and she’s the author of Praying Upside Down and Designed to Pray (coming in August 2016). With more than two decades of experience in advertising, three teen and young adult kids, and a husband of 25 years, she’s learned to look at life in unconventional ways-often upside down. She enjoys living in small-town Indiana, where she operates her own graphic design business, reads too much and cleans too little, and thrives on coffee and deep discussions with friends.

MWW committee member Cathy Shouse recently interviewed Kelly about her MWW sessions.

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MWW: What are some ways attendees can benefit from attending MWW this summer? How has your attendance, prior to coming on to the committee in 2015, influenced your career? You seem to have “colored outside the lines” and found friendships and collaborations that have propelled your career. Any tips on how others can do that?

KOS: Nearly everything I know about this industry–and writing–I learned at MWW (no exaggeration). Flash fiction sessions taught me to get right to the heart of a story; creative journalism sessions taught me better ways to tell true stories; a storyboarding intensive taught me about structure–and I’ve learned tons about platform building and promotion. The broader your exposure to multiple genres and techniques, the better your writing will be.

But the reason I love MWW the most? The friends I’ve made here. A handful of us connected deeply and quickly. They’re good writers, and they’ve helped me improve, but more than anything, their friendship makes my life richer. We write in different genres but support and admire each other’s work–pushing each other to get better, to keep working, and not to give up when things aren’t going as well as we’d like. Coming from different backgrounds, too, we are able to offer new insights into each other’s work.

The best tip I can offer is this: when you meet people (successful authors or those starting out; agents, editors, publishers, or what have you), don’t think about what they can do for you. Instead, be genuine in your interest and friendship. If you have anything to offer them (reviews of a book, sharing something on social media), do so without expecting a return favor. Be real, generous–and yourself. Ultimately, it’s likely that some of these people will help you in very real ways (like endorsements, guest blog posts, etc.). But that can’t be your motivation or you’ll never truly connect with them.

For example, I first met Elizabeth Berg at a writing workshop in Italy. I went to learn about fiction; instead, she pushed me to face my grief and loss of faith, and that experience resulted in an essay that won the inspirational writing category of the Writer’s Digest competition–and led to an endorsement from Elizabeth for my first book. I didn’t go into it expecting anything, just expressing my admiration for her work and being open to learning. But what I gained is immeasurable.

MWW: Your debut book, Praying Upside Down: A Creative Prayer Experience to Transform Your Time with God, had an amazing review by Elizabeth Berg, the award-winning novelist who spoke at MWW in 2015.

“Like the books of Anne Lamott, so full of honest and soulful searching, Kelly Stanley’s Praying Upside Down takes as its launch pad the precepts of the Christian faith. But what is offered here can apply to anyone, regardless of their faith–or lack thereof. What this book does is offer ways to learn and practice a humble kind of self-inventory, leading to forgiveness and generosity toward others as well as toward oneself. I found Kelly’s spiritual journey compelling and her voice clear, engaging, and irresistible.” (Elizabeth Berg)

Please give us a thumbnail sketch of how this unique book, which could only be created by a writer who is also an artist, went from idea to publication? Plus, how did it make you feel to be compared to Anne Lamott, who is so admired in your genre?

KOS: I was giddy when I got Elizabeth Berg’s review. My main goal in Praying Upside Down was to be true to my faith and accurately relate my experiences, but to do so in such a way that it was not off-putting to those who are not Christians. To get such a great review from a mainstream, New York Times bestselling novelist–and then to have her compare me to the person about whom I’ve always said, “If I could write like anyone, it would be Anne Lamott,” well, let’s just say there were a lot of tears that day. The good kind.

So, what is Praying Upside Down? When you turn an image upside down to copy it, you’ll get a more accurate result. When an image is upside down, it frees our minds from defining it, so we see what is really there, not what we expected to see. When my husband and I owned two houses for two years because we couldn’t sell the first, I started praying for the woman who would someday buy my house, and doing so changed everything for me. By taking myself out of the equation, I could see other things happening, and in the end, I believe I saw so many things God did in the process that I would have missed had I been determined that answered prayer could only look a certain way.

One day I saw that I had been praying upside down, much like an artist might draw upside down, and I realized nearly everything I know about art applies to prayer. At MWW 2011, I decided to turn that idea into a book, and in August 2012, right after MWW, I’d completed the book proposal and several chapters so I submitted to three agents. Several months later, I signed with one of them (Blythe Daniel), and in January of 2013 got offers from two publishers. Manuscript was due by end of the year and my book released in May 2015–it was a long wait, but I made the right choice because my publisher is so great to work with. In the end, my book turned out to be about 90% memoir and about 10% practical application. Most chapters contain a prayer palette, which offers creative suggestions for implementing the different artistic concepts described in terms of prayer–things like white space, composition, perspective, using the grid method, sketching, and so on.

MWW: From what we’ve heard, sometimes getting that second book contract can be as difficult as the first. For your second book, Designed to Pray: Creative Ways to Engage with God, which releases August 1st, how was your path to publication easier, if it was?

KOS: My experience defied every expectation of what is supposed to happen. Since I was a first-time author, my publisher wanted to see six months of sales figures before considering another book proposal. My book came out in May; in early June, my publisher emailed my agent. They’d teamed up with Women of Faith for two new books, and would I write one? And could I turn it in in two months? When they described the concept they had in mind–which was an idea I had described to a friend a few weeks earlier (but hadn’t mentioned to anyone in publishing)–I said yes. When I first hung up from the call with my agent, Blythe Daniel, there were tears then, too. Seems like a pattern with me. Don’t let me near Hallmark movies, either, or it could really get ugly.

Designed to Pray is a really different kind of book and was a creative challenge. Technically it’s a Bible study workbook. Each of the eight chapters begins with an essay on a new topic-praying like a child, overcoming obstacles, getting creative. The remaining days of each week are made up of a wide variety of practical exercises to help people apply those concepts, discover new truths about their faith and their prayer life, and explore prayer to broaden their definition of what it can be. These include writing, doodling, looking up Bible verses, coloring pages, filling in charts, and making things. I wrote it, but the biggest challenge was creating 56 different activities, designing them in order to lead people to unique results, and finding and suggesting visuals for all of the exercises. It was crazy and fast and complicated–and boy, was it fun.

MWW: Your session about finding and holding on to inspiration talks about “inspirational” writing. What are some challenges people writing “inspirational” face and how would you define the genre? Specifically, what types of writers will benefit? Is this all about religion? I’ve heard debates about what makes something “inspirational,” so am curious to get your take on it.

KOS: Inspirational writing doesn’t have to be religious, but most Christian publishing falls under that category. I guess I’d simply define it as writing that inspires, or a story with an uplifting purpose or intent. Although my writing is mostly about faith, I hope my sessions will appeal to all those who write to inspire others (whether that’s through a biography or fiction or whatever). We’ll talk about establishing credibility; maintaining a balance between your public and private faith (if that applies); the responsibility to authentically and factually relay our stories; and being sensitive when writing for an audience that spans denominations or religions.

I think the greatest challenge we face is maintaining authenticity. As writers of faith, specifically, I think we’re held to a higher standard in terms of living the type of life we are presenting in our work. I can’t write about prayer without actively and intentionally praying on a regular basis. I can’t give my take on the Bible without having read and studied carefully. No one is standing over me supervising me, but my faith is the most important part of who I am, and I want to get it right–or my readers will have no reason to read my books. All good writers know their subject matter, so in that respect it’s no different than what any other writer does. But in order to have any success whatsoever, I have to be as real as possible. Because readers will see right through it if I’m not.

MWW: I followed your journey through several rewrites (or revisions?) of your first book, which you shared on your Facebook page. How difficult was that time for you, what was involved and what motivated you to stay the course? Also, do you have any memorable reactions from strangers that have been part of your reward?

KOS: Tyndale has some extraordinary editors, and I was paired with a woman who totally gets what I’m trying to do in my writing. I’ll admit, I cried (devastated, heartbroken, sad tears) when I got the first round of changes from her. So I had a big glass of wine and watched TV until I fell into bed, resolutely refusing to think about it. But when I sat down at the computer the next day, I saw that they weren’t criticizing my work but making suggestions for clarity, not correcting mistakes as much as tightening and strengthening the words that were there. When I finished, I saw how much better my book was because of it–and I felt as though I’d just completed a masters’ course in creative writing.

People have been so good about contacting me and telling me what stories touched them, or how my book changed their prayer lives or reassured them that they were not alone. The messages from people asking me to pray for them are the most moving. When I think about what it would take for someone to reach out to a stranger–to trust me, based solely on the words I put on the page, to help them with something personal and important (and often, something they haven’t shared with people close to them)–that’s when I stop and give thanks for what I get to do. It shows me I’m exactly where I want to be.

MWW: For your MWW session “Embracing creativity in nonfiction,” what is a way, or a technique, you’ll be sharing that might help attendees to catch an editor’s eye?

KOS: I plan to discuss types of brainstorming and making connections between different things, because generating ideas is the basis for everything we do–marketing, publicity, the writing itself. We’ll talk about creative structures or frameworks for the story, ways to get an editor’s attention in the book proposal, how to reach and define your target audience, and ideas to implement after you have a book published or want to grow your platform.

People think of fiction as the place to be creative, but nonfiction benefits just as much from creative approaches. Even nonfiction writing itself is creativity–it’s the act of creating something that didn’t exist in that form before, of telling a true story in an interesting way. In fiction, writers do character studies–we will discuss our audiences in a similar way. Good fiction keeps upping the stakes; in nonfiction, the equivalent is adding value to the reader. Bringing in different techniques and approaches will help your work stand out.

MWW: To wrap this up, the following questions are just for fun:

Netflix or Prime or???

Usually a book, but I DVR a handful of shows and watch Netflix sometimes. Or I did, until we lost the remote this week. So I’m 100% back to books.

Coffee or tea?

Coffee–strong, preferably dark roast Sumatra with lots of brown sugar. Or real Italian espresso.

E-books or paper?

Both, depending on where I’m reading. An iPad is awfully convenient to prop up beside me while I eat breakfast or lunch, so I lean in that direction unless I can get a signed paper copy or know I’m going to want to mark key passages. The night I finished the first book of a series at 10:30 and realized I could download the next book and start reading right away (rather than driving an hour to Indy the next day or waiting for UPS to deliver), I was sold.

MAC or PC?

Mac, of course, says this iPhone, iPad, Mac Book Air and Mac Pro owner. No question.

Q&A with Women’s Fiction author Amy E. Reichert

Reichert AmyAmy E. Reichert loves to write stories that end well with characters you’d invite to dinner. A wife, mom, amateur chef, Fix-It Mistress, and cider enthusiast, she earned her MA in English Literature, spent eight years in the technical writing mines, and currently serves on her local library’s board of directors. Her debut,The Coincidence of Coconut Cake (Gallery, 2015), was called “clever, creative, and sweetly delicious” by Kirkus Reviews. Her second book, Luck, Love & Lemon Pie, will follow on July 12, 2016.

Amy and Karma Brown are co-teaching the Part I intensive session Women’s Fiction, Deconstructed. [NOTE: openings still available!]

In this session we’ll discuss the genre’s definition and scope, common (and often overused) tropes, and what makes Women’s Fiction such a vital part of the publishing landscape. The workshop will explore different writing styles seen in Women’s Fiction, tips for your own writing, and ideas for helping your story stand out -including characterization, pacing, and conflict. Pre-Work: Before the day of the intensive, please read FOREVER, INTERRUPTED and MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE by Taylor Jenkins Reid so everyone is familiar with and able to discuss the same examples. For those with complete story ideas, you’re welcome to submit a 2 page, single-spaced synopsis to Karma and Amy, along with your first 250 words by July 1 (midwestwriters@yahoo.com/subject line: Women’s Fiction Intensive). All submitted synopses and writing samples will be given feedback, and a few will be discussed in class.

MWW committee member Cathy Shouse recently interviewed Amy about what her MWW session attendees can expect, and so much more.

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MWW: Your debut novel, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake received sparkling reviews, including Booklist saying that “Well-developed secondary characters and detailed descriptions of the Milwaukee food scene will leave readers hungry for more.” Your second book, Luck, Love and Lemon Pie, and will come out on July 12. Kirkus Reviews wrote: “An enjoyable and thought-provoking exploration of a modern day marriage in midlife crisis.”
Tell us what it feels like to see those kinds of reviews. And given that you’re from Milwaukee and a food lover, will your intensive at MWW include ways for writers to incorporate their own interests in their books? What should attendees to your class expect? Lecture? Writing exercises?

AER: When I see reviews like that I feel relief that the themes I was trying to explore came through successfully on the page, at least to one person. And the intensive I’m teaching with the lovely Karma Brown will absolutely touch on incorporating personal passions into the story. Participants should expect to leave with a better understanding of Women’s Fiction, its place in the publishing world, and how to use that knowledge to improve their own storytelling. At this point, it will be mostly discussion and lecture, with the emphasis on discussion.

MWW: Please provide a thumbnail sketch of your road to publication. Next, if MWW was a part of your journey to getting published, what ways did the conference help you?

AER: The quick version of my path was write CAKE, revise it, query, get rejections, meet writing friends, learn about writing and everything I was doing wrong, revise, query, get more rejections, learn more about writing and repeat for 14 months until I finally had a presentable draft and signed with my amazing agent (who will also be at MWW), Rachel Ekstrom. She found me in her slush pile. I revised again, then we took CAKE on submission for about ten months when my fantastic editor, Kate Dresser at Gallery, snapped it up. While I didn’t meet my agent or editor at MWW, I did meet most of my close writing friends. Without their knowledge and support, I wouldn’t be where I am. MWW is great for soaking up knowledge, but meeting other writers and sharing experiences is almost more valuable. I look forward to this event every year!

MWW:  What is the best piece of advice or three you’ve ever been given about writing or a writing career?

AER: 1. First drafts suck. Accept it, then finish it so you can start making it better.  2. Don’t read reviews! When you’re immersed in the publishing world, everyone you know reads and leaves reviews, but the vast majority of readers don’t. And you can’t change a bad review, so why torment yourself. That being said, I will occasionally fall down this rabbit hole.  3. The publishing world is a small one. Professionalism, honesty, and kindness will serve you very well.

MWW: In conclusion, what are your responses to the following quiz?
MAC or PC?

My Macbook is my life.

Pantser or plotter, (meaning do you just start writing or do you plan/outline)? (For fiction)

Plotter. The more I know about where my story is headed, the more layers I can incorporate in a first draft.

Scrivener (or fancy fill-in-the-blank software) or Word?

Scrivener, though I will switch to Word once my editor and I move into copy edits because we need to keep track of the changes.

Early bird or night owl?
Night owl. Mornings are loathsome and horrible, only made better by the existence of coffee (and I’m so excited there will be a Starbucks at MWW this year). I also do my best writing between 9 pm and 1 am when everything is quiet.

Q&A with poet Liz Whiteacre

Liz Whiteacre currently teaches writing at the University of Indianapolis. She is the author of Hit the Ground and co-editor of the anthology Monday Coffee & Other Stories of Mothering Children with Special Needs with Darolyn Jones. Her poems have appeared in Wordgathering, Disability Studies Quarterly, The Healing Muse, Breath and Shadow, and other magazines. She is a recipient of many writing honors, including the 2015 Excellence in Teaching Award from Ball State University and an Inglis House Poetry Award in 2010. In 2011, she was nominated for a Pushcart.

Elizabeth Whiteacre - EnglishLiz is teaching the Part I intensive session, “Leaping into Poetry.” Its content was inspired by poet Robert Bly’s book, “Leaping Poetry,” which fanned the conversation about taking leaps in poems or moving readers between conscious and unconscious thought. During the daylong session, Liz will concentrate on associate leaps, allusions, and leaps prompted by figurative language, like metaphor. Attendees will learn strategies for leaping in poems both as they compose and as they revise. Written exercises and opportunities to share work will be part of the session. Participants are encouraged to bring a few of their own poems that they are interested in revising.

In addition, during MWW’s Part II, on Friday at 10:30 a.m., Liz will teach “Prompting Poems,” a session covering different types of writing prompts and resources for jump-starting a new poem; and at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, she will conduct the “Line Break Clinic” to offer strategies and exercises for determining line breaks, and help with forms that best suit the writer’s goals and the poem’s intention.

MWW committee member Janis Thornton recently interviewed Liz about Liz’s love for poetry and teaching, her new book (Hit the Ground) in which she uses poetry to explore dealing with a life-altering injury, what her MWW session attendees can expect, and so much more.

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MWW: When and why did you begin to write, and when did you first identify as a writer – and specifically, as a poet?

LW: I started writing in college. I signed up for a poetry workshop at Indiana University, not quite realizing what it was. In the workshop, we focused on reading contemporary poetry, which I’d not read much of, and writing poems in response to what we learned from them. It was a wonderful experience, and I just kept going, eventually getting my MFA in creative writing at Southern Illinois University. I was fortunate to work with poets who were encouraging and very generous with their time. I think I finally started to identify as a poet when I continued writing and publishing poetry after I left school. I was compelled to write at that point and made time for it in the midst of all my other responsibilities. It was then, I started thinking of myself as a poet, and not just as a student or teacher.

MWW: How long have you been teaching poetry, and what is it about the genre that speaks to you?

LW: I’ve been teaching poetry for over a decade. I love puzzling over how to take a fuzzy emotion and turn it into a concrete image or narrative, playing with language and form to help support the poem’s message. As a teacher, I present students with, to borrow Kooser’s metaphor, all the tools they can use to craft a poem and create an environment in which students test the tools and see what they can build. Some poems fall apart. Some poems are unexpectedly strong and beautiful. As students work, they begin to see what tools are most useful for what they like to build. And, we can turn to other poets/readers for advice with the construction process. It’s the process of the genre that gets me excited about workshops, whether I’m a teacher or student.

MWW: Who is the author who most influenced your development and/or style as a writer? In what ways did that author help shape your art?

LW: Many poets have influenced my work, and it’s hard to pick just one. Richard Cecil, Allison Joseph, Rodney Jones, and Lucia Perillo were wonderful, supportive professors as I started writing in college – I’ve learned from their work and from their charismatic teachings. Lately, I’ve been reading poets who write about disability, and I’ve had the pleasure to work with Laurie Clements Lambeth. Her poems and graphics have shaped how I explore metaphor in my poems about pain.

MWW: Your poetry chapbook, Hit the Ground, explores the effects of your devastating, life-altering spinal injury. Why did you choose to tell that experience in poetry? How did writing about this difficult time in your life challenge and/or advance your creative writing skills? How do you feel about the final result?

LW: I think I started telling my story through poems because I was writing poems at the time, and I continued to work with the medium because poems allowed me the opportunity to zero in on particular aspects of my accident/recovery and explore them in a focused way. The poems helped me take abstract feelings like pain and frustration and make them concrete through figurative language. While all the poems in Hit the Ground are based on personal experience, I did feel more freedom to excerpt, condense, or combine things than I would if I were writing a creative nonfiction essay. I think my experiences with spinal injury definitely gave me endless content for poems, and the challenge to write a poem that invites a reader to understand an abstraction has kept me going. It is satisfying to share a poem with someone and have that person better understand not only what is happening to the speaker, but what life is like for someone they know dealing with chronic pain.

MWW: What are you working on now?

LW: I am working on a persona poem project, writing poems from the transcripts of wheelchair users who participated in the study “Pre-Enrollment Considerations of Undergraduate Wheelchair Users and their Post-Enrollment Transitions” authored by Roger D. Wessel, Darolyn Jones, Christina L. Blanch, and Larry Markle.

MWW: What is the best advice you give your students?

LW: Engage with a writing community. Students who read other people’s work, talk with other writers about writing, attend events, get conversations going on social media, etc. will benefit in many ways. Not only will they find themselves part of an incredible support network, but their own writing will mature and grow in unexpected ways.

MWW: With regard to your intensive session – “Leaping into Poetry” – what do you teach that’s beneficial to both poets and writers of prose? What do you want your attendees to know before the session, and how can they best prepare for the day?

LW: Years ago, when a friend shared Robert Bly’s idea of leaping in poems with me, how I write poems changed. The MWW intensive session will focus on how writers can move readers between conscious and unconscious thoughts using associative leaps, allusions, and other types of figurative language. We will be using poems as examples at the workshop, but writers of any genre would benefit from careful thinking about how they create associative leaps in their work, which can add layers of meaning for their readers.

I’ll be providing examples of leaps in poems when we begin our discussion, and attendees will have the opportunity to practice leaping while they compose a poem. It would be great if attendees could bring 1-3 poems or flash fiction/nonfiction pieces they’ve already written (and are open to revising) with them to the workshop, which we can use during an exercise that will help us practice leaping during the revision process.

MWW: Thank you, Liz. We are all looking forward to welcoming you to the 42nd annual Midwest Writers Workshop.