An interview with Agent Alec Shane

Committee member Summer Heacock bring us this interview with agent Alec Shane, who will be one of the 6 agents at our conference this summer. Only 30 spots left! Register now!. This post first appeared on Summer’s blog Fizzygrrl.

Hello my darlings!

Today I bring you a chat with Alec Shane, awesome person and literary agent with Writer’s House.

AlecHS

1. Let’s start with the basics: How long have you been an agent, and what made you dive into this wacky business in the first place?

I originally moved to New York to get into finance, actually; I was familiar with that world and didn’t have any other bright ideas at the moment, so I figured I’d give it a shot. But I arrived at my apartment in Brooklyn in June of 2008, which is – almost to the exact month – when the economy collapsed and a lot of the big hedge funds went under. Knowing that what few financial institutions left weren’t hiring (and probably wouldn’t see “former stuntman with very little experience” as a huge selling point if they were), I decided to see if I could get a job doing something I loved instead. And two of the things I love most are sports and books. Since NYC has a big presence in both arenas, I started applying for both sports and book jobs. I didn’t really even know what agenting was, and I had never even heard of Writers House; I just called them because I stumbled onto the website and thought it was a pretty building. Luckily for me, Writers House was in the process of hiring interns right around the time I first reached out, and the rest is history. I started as Jodi Reamer’s assistant in 2009, and have been building my own list since 2012.

2. Because inquiring minds always want to know, what genres do you rep?

Mystery, thriller, horror, historical fiction, literary fiction, biography, military history, humor, sports, “guy” reads, and any type of nonfiction about an event/person that most people don’t know about, but should. I do a little bit of memoir, but not much. I’m also very passionate about helping young boys reading, as they are falling behind girls in almost every category, so books geared towards younger male readers are very much on my want list – more specifically, an MG adventure or ghost story. I’m not the best fit for romance, YA featuring angsty teens with first world problems, straight fantasy or sci-fi, self-help, and women’s fiction.

3. What type of story do you pray to the literary gods will land on your desk?

I think that horror is long overdue for a comeback, and so I’d love to find the author who can vault the genre back into the spotlight where it belongs. Most of the horror I get reads like an 80s slasher movie – which is fine, but that’s not what’s going to take things to the next level. I’d also love to find a great children’s adventure series and the next Roald Dahl. More immediately, WWII is something I’d love to learn more about – more specifically, an account of the US soldiers imprisoned at Berga towards the end of the war. We’re at the point where veterans of WWII are in their 80s and 90s, and thus won’t be with us much longer. We naturally lose our personal connections to a war when there are no living veterans who fought in it, so now is a great time to preserve that piece of history and ensure that the stories of that war never die.

And if I’m praying to the literary gods, I may as well ask them to put in a good word for me that Bill Murray, Richard Dreyfus, Tom Hanks, and Christopher Walken will all look my way when they decide to publish their memoirs.

4. I’ve heard that before leaping into the literary world, you spent time in Hollywood as a martial arts coach and a professional stunt man, among other things. Which I think makes you the most badass person I’ve ever interviewed, just FYI. Tell us a story. Did you ever jump out of a moving car? Off a burning building? I’m intrigued.

Most of the stunt work I did was of the fight choreography/getting beat up by the good guy variety, so I don’t have too many crazy stories about getting set on fire of fighting a lion to share, unfortunately. I did get thrown out of a breakaway glass window once; it was 20 floors up in the movie, but in reality I fell maybe 3 feet onto a nice, cushy mat. I also got thrown down a flight of stairs once – that wasn’t fun. Both of those scenes ended up getting cut from the movie as well, making the whole effort fruitless. But probably my most enjoyable stint doing stunts was for a movie I was in called (I’m sure you’ve heard of it) Half Past Dead Part 2, in which a prison riot broke out and the guards had to come in to try and stop it. Needless to say, the convicts end up winning the day. I played one of the guards, and it was a blast – and a little surreal – to be right in the middle of an organized, well-run, safe, planned prison riot. Everyone is standing still, the director yells “action!”, everyone starts beating each other up, the director yells “cut!” and everyone just stops. By the end of shooting that scene we all pretty much abandoned all of the choreography and just started fighting each other in earnest for as long as they’d let us. It was great.

5. What is your very favorite part of agenting? And for the sake of balance, what makes you want to cry sad agenty tears?

Hands down my favorite part of agenting is finding a new manuscript in the slush pile that just blows me away. It happens so rarely, and you have to sift through so much stuff that isn’t quite right for you in order to get there, that when it does happen it’s just an amazing feeling. Equally as amazing is calling that author whose book you found in the slush pile to let him/her know that the book s/he wrote just got picked up by a publisher.  For the most part, working with authors is a wonderful experience, and this business exposes me to some of the coolest, weirdest, nicest, craziest, most genuine people on the planet. I’ll always be grateful for that.

As for my least favorite part of the job…it’s extremely hard to read for pleasure, which is really sad. I always have at least 1,000 pages of work reading to do at any point, and so it makes it hard to sit down and just read for the hell of it – and even when I do find a few free hours to read a book I’ve been looking to check out, I find myself editing it or reading it with my agent hat on. When you read books for a living, it kind of changes the way you read books for enjoyment.

But I feel like this question is posed in order to give authors some tips for what not to do when reaching out to an agent. In that case, I’ll say that I can’t stress enough how far a personalized query letter will go towards getting your stuff read. If I get a query in which the author clearly just cut and pasted the same letter, changed the names, and blasted it out to every agent whose email address is available online, that query immediately has a stigma attached to it. But if I get something even as simple as “when researching agents online, I was happy to see that you are currently looking for thrillers, as I have a thriller that might be right up your alley,” that immediately tells me that whoever sent me this manuscript sent it to me for a reason. That’s huge.

6. Tell us something you’re working on right now that’s giving you excited feels?

I have a few projects in the works that I’m excited about – one is a thriller about an expert linguist, kicked out of the FBI, who has to solve a plot based on a random bit of Arabic spray-painted onto the wall of her apartment. I also have a mystery about a former Olympic swimmer-turned PI who delves into the seedy underbelly of Olympic sports in order to find a missing girl. I’m also getting ready to go out with a book about my beloved New England Patriots, aka THE SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS. So there are a few irons in the fire at the moment.

7. You will be coming to the Midwest Writers Workshop this summer as faculty! For those on the fence about attending, woo them with some details on what you’ll be offering up in your panels/sessions/critiques.

Oh jeez, wooing people has never been my strong suit. But I will say this: I love attending these conferences, interacting with writers, and meeting my fellow publishing professionals. Authors should always – always always always – feel free to approach me at any time throughout the weekend to ask questions they might have, pitch their book, or to just say hello. I consider myself a pretty straight shooter, and I’d like to think that authors find that helpful when attending one of my panels or sitting down to a critique session with me; if you want to hear about how perfect your manuscript is, give it to your mom or grandma. But if you’re genuinely looking to improve as a writer, to hone your craft, and get the kind of feedback that will help take your work to the next level, come see me. It’s always friendly, and I always keep it positive, but if something isn’t working, I’ll definitely let you know – and if at all possible, I’ll work with you on some ways to fix it as well. I’d like to think that authors who sign up for a critique session with me will walk away from the experience excited about the new direction they can take their book, and as far as I know I haven’t left anyone crying.

Yet.

8. As is customary on my blog, it is here I request an embarrassing or hilarious moment. Bonus points if industry related.

I made the very egregious error, during my first time ever at BEA (the Book Expo of America), of accidentally walking through the Harlequin booth during a rather busy period of romance author signings. By the time I realized where I was and what was happening, it was too late.  If I was remotely as popular with girls my own age as I am with middle-aged women who love romance novels, I’d never find myself at the singles table at weddings ever again.

Fizzy here again! 

My favorite part of this is that he ended up with one of the absolute best lit agencies in all the land because he thought they had a pretty building. If that’s not kismet, I don’t know what freaking is.

Also, I’ve been to that Harlequin booth. The man is lucky he made it out with his life.

And that’s Alec, my dears!

Follow him on Twitter HERE.

Or check out Writer’s House HERE.

OR! Even better, come see the sir in person this July at the Midwest Writers Workshop. A good time will be had by all.

Q&A with Julie Hyzy

MWW is delighted that popular, award-winning mystery author Julie Hyzy is returning to this year’s conference. Julie was last a featured MWW faculty member in 2012.

HyzyShe is a New York Times bestselling mystery author and winner of the Anthony, Barry, and Derringer awards. An incredibly busy writer, Julie produces a book a year for two cozy-mystery series — the White House Chef (featuring Olivia Paras) and Manor House (featuring Grace Wheaton) — both for Berkley Prime Crime.

During this year’s Part I, Thursday intensive sessions, Julie will share what she’s learned as a novelist. Her workshop is, “Your Novel and How to Write It.” Her Part II sessions are “The Voices in Your Head” on Friday afternoon and “Friends Indeed” on Saturday morning.

Julie makes her home with her family in Chicago. Visit www.juliehyzy.com for more information about her books.

This week, MWW committee member Janis Thornton caught up with Julie for a Q&A.

*  *  *

 MWW: What led you … or perhaps you were driven … to write cozy mysteries? When did you know you had found your niche?

 JH: Believe it or not, I never set out to write cozy mysteries. Although my first novel was a light romantic suspense, my next two (the start of my Alex St. James series) were a little edgier and my short stories have always been dark. But back in about 2006 or so, Marty Greenberg (then head of Tekno Books — now, sadly, deceased), asked me if I had any interest in writing a series involving the first female White House executive chef. Of course I was interested! Oddly enough, until he shared a couple of titles his team had dreamed up for the books, I didn’t know they were expecting a cozy. That definitely changed my approach.

Since then, I’ve come to embrace the genre and I truly enjoy writing Ollie’s adventures. In fact, I had so much fun with them that I created a series of my own with Grace and the Manor House gang. I do, however, hope to return to my darker roots (and I’m not talking about my hair <grin>) one of these days.

MWW: As you’re preparing to start a new book project, how much of the story do you plan, such as outlining, and how much of it is simply organic?

JH: I always have a plan of attack, but it’s never set in stone. I outline, but the actual method changes from book to book as I explore new techniques and adopt new habits. When I begin a new manuscript, I generally have most, if not all, of the key scenes jotted down. That said, if an unplanned character shows up and says “You need me,” or my protagonist tells me that she’d prefer to follow a different path, I listen. The final manuscript rarely matches the original outline.

MWW: One of the difficulties with writing a series is keeping the characters, situations, and mysteries from getting stale. You clearly don’t have that problem… so what advice do you give authors looking for ways to keep their series fresh?

JH: That’s so nice of you to say. Thank you! I have to give Ollie and Grace the credit here. They lead interesting lives and I simply follow along and write it down. That sounds like a non-answer, doesn’t it? But it’s the truth. I try very hard not to get in my characters’ way when I’m writing. I place them where they need to be, but then I let them take over. They constantly surprise me with ideas and actions I could never have imagined on my own.

MWW: Your stories are also realistic. For example, you obviously have spent a great deal of time in the White House kitchen <smile>. But seriously, how do approach the research for your books so the settings and situations seem so real?

JH: Again, thank you! I research like crazy. I read everything I can about the White House so that I can portray life there as realistically as possible. (Within reason, that is. In real life, they’re WAY more detailed than my characters are. But that could get boring for readers, so I pare it down.) When I’m writing for Grace, I refer back to photos and books I’ve collected from mansion-tourist museums in the U.S. Plus, I visit as many key locations as possible — as often as I can. In fact, I’m traveling to Quebec City later this year because I have some scenes in mind I’d like to set there (for an entirely new story). Although there’s a lot of information online about locations, there’s no substitute for actually visiting a place in person. How else to experience the sounds, the smells, the people?

MWW: What do you enjoy most about being a full-time writer? And what about it, if anything, continues to challenge you?

JH: I love the fact that I can make a living (albeit a small one) following my passion. I’ve always wanted to be a writer and I really feel as though I’m living the dream. I enjoy being my own boss and setting my own schedule. Hilariously, that’s also what I struggle with most. Hitting deadlines on time, every time, takes discipline; and while I’m usually pretty good at sitting my butt in the chair and keeping my fingers on the keyboard, I’m also very easily distracted. Our youngest daughter, Biz, and I enjoy watching BBC dramas while we drink tea. Using our tea time together as a carrot (er, in this case, crumpet) often gets me to complete my daily word count.

MWW: What project are you working on currently?

JH: I’m writing the seventh book in my Grace (Manor House) series right now. The sixth book (Grace Cries Uncle) saw some major changes in Grace’s life so I’m using this one to kind of re-settle things before her world gets upended again in Book #8. I’m also jotting notes for something altogether new.

MWW: You are teaching a Part I intensive session called, “Your Novel and How to Write It.” What’s the best way for your participants to prepare for your class, and what is the best new writing tip you want them to take home?

JH: The best thing a participant can do is simple: be prepared for a fresh approach. I was impressed with the level of professionalism at MWW when I was there in 2012. These writers aren’t looking for someone to parrot old rules like “Write what you know,” or “Avoid talking heads.” They’ve been there, done that. We’ll definitely cover some basics (it’s impossible not to) but I hope to encourage these writers to dig deeper. No one has all the answers, of course, but I’m eager to share what’s worked for me.

MWW: Thank you, Julie!

REGISTER TODAY!

Award-winning Michael Shelden to teach Writing the Biography

For the FIRST TIME, Midwest Writers Workshop is offering a Part I intensive session on WRITING THE BIOGRAPHY.

So, who did we get to teach it? None other than the award-winning Dr. Michael Shelden! (Yes, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Biography.)

Shelden Michael 150x129In addition to teaching “Writing the Biography,” Michael will teach several sessions throughout the weekend of our July 23-25 workshop. Committee member Cathy Shouse caught up with Michael for a Q&A after he landed back home in Indiana from his six-city tour to Chicago, San Diego, New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, as a 2015 Drue Heinz Lecturer for the Royal Oak Foundation in affiliation with the National Trust of England.

While on tour, Michael lectured about his latest book,Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill,published by Simon &, Schuster, New York and London, 2013. (For more details about the tour, click here.)  This month he also gave a presentation, “Moments of Being: The New Art of Biography,” at the College of Liberal Arts at Purdue in West Lafayette.

Young Titan has garnered rave reviews from numerous sources:

“It’s all here–the boy wonder, adventurer, romantic, orator and eloquent man in the arena. I didn’t want it to end.” ~ Tom Brokaw on Michael Shelden’s book Young Titan.

“Entertaining and erudite . . .Shelden is full of sharp literary insights about Churchill, as one would expect from a biographer of his rank.” ~ The Wall Street Journal

If you want to improve your nonfiction skills, you should register for Michael’s intensive session! Here’s what he had to say about his upcoming presentations at Midwest Writers Workshop in July.

MWW:  Which book would you recommend attendees read to understand the techniques you’ll discuss in your intensive session? Or would all of them apply equally?

MS: Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill (Simon & Schuster, 2013) and Mark Twain: Man in White (Random House, 2010)

MWW:  One of my favorite biographies is Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak. Do you have a favorite biography, or more than one, and what do you like about it?

MS: Hampton Sides, Hellhound on His Trail, is a suspenseful portrait of Martin Luther King and James Earl Ray in the period when the hate-filled assassin was stalking the great civil rights champion.

MWW:  Is there a common pitfall(s) you see when you read biographies and how will your session help to avoid those?

MS: The most common mistake in biographies is to follow chronology too closely. The writer must know when to skip over boring details for the sake of creating a streamlined narrative.

MWW:  Please provide some details about how your intensive will be structured. Will attendees be writing during the session?

MS: I will discuss how to find material for a good biographical narrative, how to structure it, and how to make it come to life with forceful writing. We can try a few experiments by writing short samples, but mostly I will try to highlight the effective methods I’ve learned over the years.

MWW:  If someone has not begun a biography and maybe doesn’t have a subject chosen, how will this session help (or should they have a subject already?) and would you rate your class as aiming toward a specific level of writer?

MS: I’m often asked how I choose the subjects for my biographies, and I will explain this process in the session, but it’s highly personal and can’t be applied to most writers. You don’t write a biography in the abstract. The subject has to come first, and it has to be one that engages the writer fully at every level. The nature of the subject will largely determine how the story will be told.

MWW:  Will some of the techniques you plan to discuss apply to fiction writers who are working on characters, or should attendees be strictly working with nonfiction?

MS: Biographers may use dialogue, setting, and story in much the same way that novelists do, but the main difference is that we can’t make stuff up. Most of what I will have to say will apply to writers of nonfiction.

MWW:  Are there some ways to prepare for your class?

MS: Read a good biography and think at every turn about how it was made.

*****

Michael’s Part II sessions include the Thursday evening keynote, Finding Subjects for Nonfiction, and The Art of Research.

REGISTER TODAY!

NEW intensive session! “Short Story Fellows Workshop” with Cathy Day

Midwest Writers is offering a NEW intensive session for our Part I format on Thursday, July 23, 2015! 

“Short Story Fellows Workshop” taught by (writer, teacher, bossy narrator) Cathy Day (Blog: The Big Thing www.cathyday.com) is limited to six participants who will spend the day reading and responding to each other’s manuscripts. It’s an intensive intensive.

Those accepted into this intensive will have the opportunity to have their 5-10 page short story critiqued by the whole group. Specifically, participants will be working to improve their facility with scenecraft (when to dramatize, when to summarize), point of view, setting, suspense, and readability. All work will be discussed anonymously and read aloud. To apply, send a 5-10 page writing sample in manuscript form (as an attachment) to Cathy Day at cathy@cathyday.com. Applications will be taken until midnight on (DEADLINE EXTENDED) April 6. Participants will be notified of acceptance by April 18 so that they can sign up for another intensive if not selected. [Note: the writing sample submitted as an application does not need to be the same story you will workshop at the conference. Those who are accepted will be notified at a later date about sending their story for the workshop to Cathy.]

Day CathyCathy Day is the author of two books. Her most recent work is Comeback Season, part memoir about life as a single woman and part sports story about the Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl season in 2006. Her first book was The Circus in Winter, a fictional history of her hometown.  The Circus in Winter was a finalist for the GLCA New Writers Award, the Great Lakes Book Award, and the Story Prize, and has been adapted into a musical. [Strange but true: The Circus in Winter was the solution to the New York Times Magazine acrostic puzzle in February 2005.]

Currently, she lives in Muncie, Indiana and teaches at Ball State University, where she’s serving as the Assistant Chair of Operations in the Department of English.

We asked Cathy a few questions about this new intensive session.

MWW:  Why did you decide to offer a short story intensive, something that is new for MWW in recent years?

CATHY: I wanted to do this because I believe that the best way to help people become published authors is to actually read and respond to their writing.

MWW offers so many great pathways to publication, but there’s nothing better than good, old-fashioned writing instruction.

MWW: We sometimes think of short stories as “literary” as opposed to “commercial” so please let us know the types of stories you are open to receiving. (Is something with paranormal elements okay? Fantasy? Dystopian?)

CATHY: I’m open to anything. The craft elements I’m focusing on–scenecraft (when to dramatize, when to summarize), point of view, setting, suspense, and readability–apply to any kind of fiction.

MWW:  What would you say to someone who has never written a short story? Is this class for them or for the experienced short story writer?

CATHY: Honestly, I’d like to work with MWW veterans who come quite often and are looking for something new, something they haven’t gotten already. I know that this is something our diehards have said they’d like. That is why I’m reviewing the manuscripts beforehand–I would prefer that everyone in the class be writing at about the same level: intermediate to advanced. Maybe another year, I’ll do something for beginners.

MWW:  Since you’re accepting six students, what happens if you receive too many registrations?

CATHY: I will choose the six writers I’d like to work with. That’s why those in this workshop are “fellows,” because they were vetted ad selected. I want those in my intensive to feel a little bit special.

MWW:  What specific help will a person get on their manuscript?

CATHY: I do this in my classes at Ball State with much success. I read the story aloud and it’s projected on a screen. I do this without revealing whose story it is. It’s a great experience to be in the room when others are “reading” your work for the first time. You hear them sigh or laugh. You watch them fidget when things are dragging. Then we talk about the story, and you can join in too. There’s something about not knowing exactly whose story it is that frees us up somehow to be honest. At the end, we reveal who wrote what.

I rarely read work by people I don’t know because I do so much of that in my job at Ball State. But I’m offering to read your work, if you’re up for it, too. Every year that I’ve presented at MWW, people have asked if they can take a writing class with me, and I’ve had to say no. Now I’m saying yes. Come work with me. I’m very nice, and I don’t bite.

Welcome travel writer Pam Mandel

We’re just 30 days out from the Midwest Writers Workshop 2014, our 41st conference! Most years, we have some surprise experiences, extra activities, or additional people to announce after the brochure is completed. This year, we have a special guest, Pam Mandel. She’s a travel writer friend of our own Kelsey Timmerman and has signed up as an attendee.

Pam Mandel is a freelance writer and photographer. She has written travel stories for Conde Nast Traveler online, Afar, World Hum, AOL Travel, Gadling, 

Perceptive Travel, Lonely Planet, and several in-flight magazines and custom publications. She’s a two-time Solas Best Travel Writing Award winner and a surviving guidebook author. She was a very early adopter of blogging and social media, embracing new media in 1999 when it really was new and you had to code your own HTML. Her current blog,  Nerd’s Eye View, is ten years old. She’s spoken about social media and its use in travel storytelling at a dozen conferences, including SxSW, TBEX, BlogHer, and the Book Passage Travel Writers Conference. She lives with her Austrian husband in Seattle, WA, and plays ukulele with The Castaways, Seattle’s Loudest Ukulele Band.

We’re thrilled that Pam is attending and are finding ways our other attendees may benefit from her expertise. In the meantime, Cathy Shouse interviewed Pam here:

MWW: Why have you have decided to attend Midwest Writers Workshop and are you making special preparations as an attendee? We’re thrilled to have you, by the way.

PM: I’m excited about the opportunity to trade ideas and stories from the trenches with a bunch of new-to-me writers. I tend to stay in a rather travel-writing-centric bubble but that’s not necessarily the best strategy for facing the challenges of being a working writer–you don’t get as many new ideas when you’re all solving the same puzzles. So I’m looking forward to learning about how others find their way.

As for prep, mostly, I’m fretting about July in the Midwest. I’m not sure I have the right hair product for that kind of humidity.

MWW: What are a couple of ways that freelancing as a travel writer has changed since you began in the 90s? We’ve heard through the grapevine that you “can get a technophobic human blogging in about 20 minutes.” How can that be true?

PM: Heh. It IS true, and it’s because tech has evolved from super-complicated programmers-only tools to ones that anyone who can wrassle a document in Microsoft Word can use. (Okay, with large documents, Word is no picnic, but you get my meaning.) I wrote code by hand when I started out. While I still get under the hood sometimes, it’s not because I have to. I can prove this statement, by the way. Last year, at another conference, in the ten minutes during which another presenter was talking, I sat and helped a student launch a blog. Seriously. I’ve done this three years in a row. It looks like a magic trick, but I don’t even drive, I let the student do ALL the work.

As for how travel writing has changed . . . wow. Here’s a really cool thing that’s happened–anyone with an Internet connection can now share a travel story. The downside of this is that anyone with an Internet connection can now share a travel story. This means there are a million stories about Paris, Dar es Salaam, Honolulu, Perth . . . so it’s more critical than ever that writers take a strong point of view, have a unique voice, and check their facts. Because that’s how you stand out these days.

MWW: Speaking of blogging, which camp are you in–the one saying that the time has passed to start a blog or the one that says every writer needs a blog? And why?

PM: Yes. No. Both. It depends.

Once upon a time it was easy to be found when you started a blog, it was easy to organically develop a readership. If you built it, they came. Those days are gone. You have to strategize. But “the platform” is a critical element of marketing now. So yes, you should be online.

That said, if you REALLY don’t want to blog, I don’t think you should. I love social media, it comes naturally to me, it’s not a chore. If you’re not going to commit yourself to your blog, don’t bother. You’ll just have a dead blog.

This doesn’t mean you have to churn out stuff all the time, I know a fairly successful writer who updates his blog once a month, not much more than that. But his blog is a live thing, it’s not some static place that was last updated six months, a year ago.

In short, if you’re going to blog, go all in. Otherwise, don’t bother. Build a static website and leave it at that.

Interview with Daniel José Older

Older PhotoDaniel José Older is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and composer. Following the release of his ghost noir collection, Salsa Nocturna,  Publisher’s Weekly declared Daniel a rising star of the genre. He facilitates workshops on storytelling, music, and anti-oppression organizing at schools, community organizations and universities. His short stories and essays have appeared in Gawker, BuzzFeed Books,Salon, The Chicago Sun Times, The New Haven Review,Tor, PANK, Strange Horizons, and Crossed Genres among other publications. He’s co-editing the anthology,  Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, and his forthcoming urban fantasy novel The Half Resurrection Blues, the first of a trilogy, will be released by Penguin’s Roc imprint. His first YA novel, Shadowshaper, comes out in 2015. You can find his thoughts on writing, read his ridiculous ambulance adventures, and hear his music at ghoststar.net/ and@djolder.

MWW intern and agent assistant Sarah Hollowell interviewed Daniel José Older:

MWW: You’re running an intensive session in Part I of the workshop called “Young Adult Literature and the Mechanics of Plot.” Are there any themes that you consider to be unique to YA, or more commonly found in the genre?

DJO: In YA, we’re looking at very specific kinds of crises–the turning point is so often that complicated moment when a young person takes the first step toward adulthood. It’s ripe for literature because it’s always such a truly intense, emotional time and the struggle to take that step, whether dramatized by dragons, cancer, or a breakup, is truly a momentous one.

MWW: Your first session of Part II is about writing the “Other,” an important topic that has been getting more attention with the rising cry from the literary world that #WeNeedDiverseBooks. What do you think is the biggest mistake writers make when trying to write outside their experience?

DJO: Both in these discussions and in our story-craft, we too often ignore power. Power is a fascinating, dynamic, and complex topic that really can only strengthen our writing, but folks dip and dodge around the nitty gritty of it. Why? Because it’s uncomfortable, it’s hard to talk about. It’s messy. And we’re not taught to analyze power with much depth, rarely in high school and college, almost never in MFA programs and writing workshops. But power is what makes conflict great, and conflict lays the backbone of story. To really get real about writing about the “other” requires us to get uncomfortable.

MWW: On a similar vein, you have a session on using worldbuilding as a vehicle for addressing social justice themes without being preachy. How do you combat criticism that says books shouldn’t be used for social justice, preachy or not?

DJO: Oh! I ignore it.

MWW: Your last session is on the ever-changing world of speculative fiction. Are there any types of speculative fiction stories that you are just tired of seeing and reading right now?

DJOTired of seeing white men save the world. Tired of seeing the One Special Chosen One narratives. Tired of same-ol’ stereotypes of folks of color. Tired of the idea that a single, simple move will solve all the world’s problems. Tired of heteronormativity. Tired of women only being written as passive, quirky, or hyper-sexual. Tired of lazy worldbuilding. Instead, I’m excited for all the counternarratives and new motifs the world has in store as we open up new spaces for unheard voices.

During Part I of the workshop, Daniel will be teaching Young Adult Literature and the Mechanics of Plot.

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During Part II, he’ll be teaching: Fundamentals of Writing “the Other”; Context The Changemaker: Using Worldbuilding To Address Social Justice Themes; and Writing Speculative Fiction.

Interview with blogger Erik Deckers

Deckers, ErikErik Deckers is a professional blogger, whose column appears in several Indiana newspapers. He also is a travel writer, a ghost writer, public speaker, social media marketing pro, and a very funny man. (For a taste of Erik’s humor, visit his blog, laughing-stalk.blogspot.com.) In addition, he is president of the Indianapolis-based Professional Blog Service and co-author of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself, No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine. Erik has been blogging since 1997 and encourages any writer interested in building a following to consider building an online presence through Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, but especially via a blog. According to Erik, an author’s blog is the hub of the personal brand — a home base where the authors’ readers can find them, get to know them, buy their books, and keep up with their new releases.

MWW committee member Janis Thornton was in touch with Erik and asked him to reveal a bit more about himself, his workshop, and what his blog workshop participants can expect.

MWW: Who should attend your class, and what sort of prerequisite web and social media experience will they need?

ED: The course is designed for anyone who wants to promote their writing and to build up their readership, whether you already have a blog or not. It helps if you at least know how to use a web browser, have one working finger (or one of those cool computer systems that tracks your eye movement), and understand the principles of social media.

I do recommend that you have a Twitter account, and if you want to get started early, set up a free blog at Blogger.com, WordPress.com, or Tumblr.com. Learn the basic mechanics of how to publish a blog post and embed a photo. Those things aren’t necessary to taking the class, but I won’t be discussing how to do it. They’re very easy to figure out though.

MWW: What do you say to writers who are hesitant to start their blog for fear they won’t maintain it?

ED:  DO IT NOW! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!

Sorry, got carried away. That’s not what I say to writers.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with starting a blog and letting it fail. How many stories are unfinished on your laptop somewhere? You’re allowed to have those and, in fact, it’s almost encouraged because it means you’re working and trying to create. But how many stories are still in your brain because you’ve never started them because you’re afraid you won’t finish them? Don’t you regret having those untold, unrealized stories? I’d much rather start a story and not finish it, than never try it at all.

It’s the same with blogging: it’s perfectly okay to start a blog and then not update it very frequently. It’s perfectly okay to start a blog and let it die. It’s not okay to refuse to start because you’re afraid of failing. Remember, we’re writers. The whole point of writing — which is also our biggest fear — is taking a risk and sharing our ideas.

Your blog lets you do that. You’re not writing for posterity or to give the scholars something to study in 100 years (that’s what our notebooks are for). This is to share fun ideas, quirky thoughts, works in progress, notify people when your next book signing is, and so on. You can build your readership and fan base, and find out what your readers want from you.

MWW: What are some of your favorite author blogs and why?

ED:  I’m a very eclectic reader when it comes to author blogs. Ryan Brock and Metonymy Media (www.metonymymedia.com) is a good one. Ryan is a friend and competitor, and I love reading his outlook on how storytelling is the most important part of effective business writing. Doug Karr is another friend who writes a marketing technology blog (www.marketingtechblog.com); since my job is social media and content marketing, his is a big one for me. And I read Cathy Day’s Literary Citizenship blog regularly.

MWW: When did you first realize you could write well enough to make it your career?

ED:  I never actually realized I could write until I was 29. But I was that annoying guy in college who got A’s on papers he wrote in four hours. I just thought everyone could do that. Writing had always been a part of my work as a marketer, and I always wanted a job where writing was one of my responsibilities. But it wasn’t until I was 42 that I finally had my own business where writing was the sole activity of my career.

MWW: Besides writing books about blogging and social media marketing, you are a syndicated humor writer. Have you always been funny or is being funny a trait that even the humor-challenged writer can cultivate?

ED:  Ooh, nice segue into Friday! (I’m teaching a class on humor writing that day.)

I’ve always been funny, although throughout my life, not everyone realized it. But I learned I’m funniest when I write. So I’ve spent years and years, not just studying humor, but studying the psychology of humor. And thanks to the work of other humor thinkers and researchers — Dick Wolfsie, Victor Raskin, and even my dad, a psychology professor and humor researcher (no, really!) — I’ve managed to steal all the best information, and will be teaching it during Part II on Friday at the workshop.

Basically, humor has a formula, and if you can master this formula, you can write humor. Humor is not about jokes — the “two giraffes walk into a bar” kind of thing — but it’s about surprising your audience, getting them to recognize the elements of your joke, and even lying to them. And I will be sharing five of them on Friday.

MWW: What sorts of fun can your blogging workshop attendees look forward to?

ED:  I may or may not do any of the following:

* Tell jokes

* Have candy

* Tell the one big secret to successful blogging

* Tell dirty jokes (okay, I won’t do that)

* Tell a funny thing I know about Kelsey Timmerman

* Tell the story of how my knowledge of blogging got me fired from a job

* Give away a copy of my book.

MWW: Is there anything you would like to add?

ED:  My Friday session is called “Five Secrets to Writing Humor,” but I’m going to actually do six or seven, BECAUSE NO SCHEDULE CAN TELL ME HOW TO LIVE!

Sorry, I keep doing that shouting thing.  But still, six or seven secrets. (I’m just sayin’ …)

MWW: Thanks, Erik!

Erik is conducting an all-day intensive workshop called,Build Your Author Blog during Part I. The workshop is billed as part tech, part marketing, part writing; and judging from the sense of humor Erik reveals in his answers, it’s also bound to be 100 percent fun.

Erik will also deliver the Thursday evening opening keynote address.

Interview with poet Allison Joseph

Joseph, AllisonAllison Joseph is the author of What Keeps Us Here (Ampersand, 1992), Soul Train (Carnegie Mellon, 1997), In Every Seam (Pittsburgh, 1997),Imitation of Life (Carnegie Mellon, 2003) and Worldly Pleasures (Word Press, 2004). Her honors include the John C. Zacharis First Book Prize, fellowships from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers Conferences, and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Poetry. She is editor and poetry editor of Crab Orchard Review and director of the Young Writers Workshop, an annual summer residential creative writing workshop for high school writers. She holds the Judge Williams Holmes Cook Endowed Professorship. She is Director of the Southern Illinois University Carbondale MFA Program in Creative Writing.

Allison was interviewed by MWW committee member, Cathy Shouse.

MWWPlease let us know what types of poetry you write and give a short description of your career path, including how you got published and when, as well as your latest release.

AJI write all sorts of poems. I have published six books of poems and two chapbooks. My latest book is Trace Particles, a chapbook from Backbone Press.

MWW: How will your intensive session at MWW work? Will participants be doing any writing, for example?

AJ: Lots of reading and writing will take place. Lots of discussion about poetry.

MWW: What is the best tip you were ever given with regard to your writing career and why?

AJ: Read as much as possible.

MWW: Have writing conferences influenced your writing? If so, how?

AJ: Conferences provide community.

MWW: What are some ways all writers might benefit from your session, even if they don’t write poetry?

AJ: They will learn about lyricism, diction, rhythm and pacing–those skills are beneficial to all writers.

MWW: What are your thoughts on traditional publishing versus self publishing with regards to writing?

AJ: Poets have so many venues nowadays that self-publishing is not necessary. There are many ways to get published that involve cooperation and community. Self-publishing is actually an isolating move for a poet.

Allison will be teaching in Part I of the workshop on the topic, Reflections on the Contemporary OdeThis session will explore what an ode is, why contemporary poets have rediscovered this form, and why reading and writing odes should be a part of every writer’s practice. We’ll look at examples of this enchanting form, write new ones dedicated to our own personal inspirations, and get feedback on what makes an ode endure for both readers and writers.

During  Part II, Allison will be teaching on Revising Poems for Fun and Profit. This session will discuss how writing poems is fun. Revising poems is work. Learn how to revise poems so that they have a life beyond your own notebooks. Publication and performance to be discussed in this session.

Read some of Allison’s poems in Valparaiso Poetry Review.

Interview with Kelsey Timmerman: Turning Real Stories into a Real Career

Kelsey Timmerman is a traveler with a writing problem. He met the agent who sold his first book, Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes at the Midwest Writers’ Workshop in the summer of 2007. Kelsey’s latest book is Where Am I Eating? An Adventure Through the Global Food Economy. His writing has appeared in publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Condé Nast Portfolio and has aired on NPR. Kelsey is also the co-founder of the Facing Project, a nationwide storytelling project that activates writers to tell stories that strengthen community. He has spent the night in Castle Dracula in Romania, played PlayStation in Kosovo, farmed on four continents, taught an island village to play baseball in Honduras, and in another life, worked as a SCUBA instructor in Key West, Florida.

Kelsey will be leading the  Part I nonfiction intensive at MWW. We caught up with Kelsey for this week’s E-pistle.

MWWAt MWW you are teaching a nonfiction intensive session titled “Turning Real Stories into a Real Career.” Could fiction writers benefit from this intensive as well?

KT: Totally. I’m jealous of fiction writers because they can travel between their ears where they aren’t threatened by deadly venomous snakes, paramilitary forces, and Ghanaian death buses, all of which I have encountered. Also, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper. But from a career perspective, I often feel sorry for fiction writers. There are way fewer places to publish fiction. Nonfiction is always about real-world issues. However, fiction writers can leverage their real-world experiences and research surrounding these issues to get published in magazines, newspapers, and other outlets. Each published clip, besides being a great ego boost, is another shiny thing to pepper in your query letter to a future agent or editor. Nonfiction writing builds an author’s authority and platform. It also is more likely to pay! All writers can benefit from writing and publishing non-fiction.

MWWWalk us through your path to publishing.

KT: I graduated with a degree in anthropology, which I quickly put to use as a SCUBA diving instructor and world traveler. I started to write about my experiences and shortly after had a weekly travel column in the Key West The Newspaper. I got paid $0 per column. It was the world’s most expensive hobby, and I love it! That column was my grad school. I had to write 1,000 publishable words every single week. It was my reason to write. (In my session we’ll be exploring our individual reasons to write that keep us writing.) After two years of writing the column, I reworked some of them and they got picked up by publications that people had heard of and that paid. And then, of course, I went to Bangladesh because my underwear was made there and I wanted to meet the people who made them. This was followed by trips to Cambodia, China, and Ethiopia. I had an agent interested in my Where Am I Wearing? idea as a book, and then I met another agent at my first MWW, with whom I eventually signed. A few months later, I had a book deal. Three months later I finished the book. A year later that book was out, and suddenly, after eight years of working at the writing thing, I had a career as a writer and as a speaker. And because everyone always wants to know. . . . Yes, this is what I do for a living.  I support my wife, who is the real hero in all of this, and our two kids.

MWW: You’ve been a column writer, freelancer, author, and speaker. Is it important for writers to diversify?

KT: You bet! I looked at my career as a multi-front attack. I advanced the column thing as far as I could, and then I shifted to freelance work. Freelance clips led to books, which led to more freelancing work and speaking engagements. They all feed one another. Yet, if I would’ve said, “I’m only a columnist,” and given up when my travel column literally  had been rejected hundreds of times, I would be living someone else’s dream. You are a writer. You aren’t just a fiction writer, a YA author, or a literary journalist. You are a storyteller.

MWW: What will students walk away with from your intensive?

KT: I’m not sure this has been done before at MWW, but I will personally give you a, “you’ll get published guarantee.” Every attendee will leave with clear goals and a plan of attack to execute those goals. If after one year, a student believes he or she followed the plan and has not been published, I will personally reimburse them the $150 fee for Part I.  (Note this isn’t an MWW guarantee; in fact, Jama will probably try to talk me out of this. This is me paying you back if you aren’t happy.) You. Will. Get. Published. I guarantee it! The bar for nonfiction writing is rather low.  We’ll talk about how to exceed expectations and share a few tools from fiction writing. We want your work to stand out. You have to write well before anyone will publish anything. Next, we’ll explore why you write, and how to discover your unique areas of expertise. And then, we’ll lay out a plan of who you’ll pitch (agents, newspapers, magazines, websites, etc), how you want to be published, and set tangible writing and career development goals. We’ll work through a writer’s business plan and we might even bust out a spreadsheet or two. Writing careers rarely happen by accident.

MWW: What are you looking forward to the most about this summer’s conference?

KT: I grew as a writer by attending MWW, and I really enjoy watching as others grow their love for writing and their writing careers. For me, the conference is less of a workshop than it is a family reunion. I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends and making new ones. Connect with Kelsey:  Blog / Twitter / Facebook

Being brave is part of chasing your dream of being a writer. Be brave. Register today for #mww14!

Part I Intensive Sessions are filling up! Don’t miss this outstanding faculty, this information-packed schedule, this opportunity to pitch to agents, this time of networking and participating in all that is the MWW Community. Register today!

 

Interview with author Matthew V. Clemens

Matthew ClemensMatthew Clemens, in collaboration with Max Allan Collins, has penned seventeen TV tie-in novels including CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, Dark Angel, Bones, and Criminal Minds. Twilight Tales published the pair’s collected short stories in My Lolita Complex and Other Tales of Sex and Violence.  They have also authored a pair of thrillers You Can’t Stop Me and No One Will Hear You for Kensington.  Look for What Doesn’t Kill You in 2013.

MWW committee member Cathy Shouse interviewed Matthew.

Cathy: Please tell us how you first came to MWW and how many years you have been involved.

Matthew: Wow, first MWW, 1990 or 1991. I’ve attended every conference since. One of my mentors was R. Karl Largent (the man whose name is on the writing prize). He came to my home conference, David R. Collins’ Mississippi Valley Writers Conference, to teach in ’89 or ’90, and suggested that, if I was serious, I should attend other conferences as well, and he pushed MWW. The next year, I came. He was right. I first came as an attendee, have been fortunate enough to be asked in as faculty, and have just generally served as the camp mascot other years. These people have become not just my friends, but my family.

Cathy: Since this summer is the 40th workshop, the committee has been reminiscing about the people and events in years past. What are some special times and/or people that were especially memorable for you?

Matthew: And you thought the last answer was long-winded . . . Special people? Earl Conn, Karl Largent, Jama Bigger, Helen Tirey, Alan Garinger, Fred Woodress, Ron Groves, Wes Gehring, Glenna Glee Jenkins, and the current committee members, and speakers like Donald E. Westlake, Joyce Carol Oates, the incomparable Bill Braschler, John Gilstrap, Julie Hyzy, and George Plimpton. Those are just the names of some of the people off the top of my head.

Good times? A few. Wes convincing me to dress up as Sister Arnulfa, Karl’s nemesis, when Karl received the Dorothy Hamilton award. There was the time Jama, Wes, and I had breakfast with George Plimpton while he regaled us with tales of sitting atop the Green Monster in Fenway Park. Singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” as my eulogy for Karl. My favorite? I still cry when I think about receiving the Dorothy Hamilton Award. To be considered highly enough to get the same award as one of my writing fathers was as touching as anything that’s happened to me. In short, I feel I owe my career, my entire writing life to MWW.

Cathy: Of your many career achievements, which ones stand out as the most significant to you and why?

Matthew: Okay, the Dorothy Hamilton thing probably should have come here, because other than that, I don’t put a lot of stock in nominations, awards, and things of that ilk  The most significant achievement is that people seem to like what Max Allan Collins and I do enough to keep offering us contracts  I haven’t had a day job for twenty-one years. I’m proud of that. I get to do what I love for a living, and I don’t have to wear a watch.

Cathy: The publishing industry is undergoing so much change. From your perspective as someone with a long-time career, do you have any insights or truths to hold onto for those who may be just starting out or are not too far along on the journey?

Matthew: Insights? I wish. I would use them myself. The industry is undergoing tectonic changes  It will be a different world in another ten years, maybe even sooner. What that means to beginners is more opportunities. I would dearly LOVE to be a beginning writer today. There are so many more storytelling venues than even when I started in 1992. The Internet is the final frontier. No wait, maybe it’s television, no wait, video games. There are more storytelling platforms than ever, and they all need content. I’m not a novelist, someday I may not even be a writer, but what I will always be, in some form, is a storyteller.

Advice:  NEVER give up. Grow dinosaur skin. Remember it’s never personal, even when it is to you, and write the next thing.  ALWAYS write the next thing.

Cathy:  I am hooked on your daily Facebook manifestos, the Matthew Clemens equivalent of “Seize the Day.” I’m wondering if those posts were designed to work into your “marketing strategy,” are just for fun, or what purpose they may serve for you? Has the number of FB followers changed because of those? I tried to find you on Twitter and wasn’t sure which one you are. How do you feel about Twitter?

Matthew: My note for the day has nothing to do with marketing strategy, I’m not that smart. Steve Brewer does his Rules For Successful Living, then when he gets enough, he puts out a book  I’m not even that smart. It started with me having a bad day and I fired off a letter to a particularly lowly Friday. Then did another when Saturday didn’t live up to expectations, then before I knew it people were telling me they were reading them every day and sending them to friends. There was a brief period where I tried to be clever. Stopped that and went back to just writing whatever pops into my brain. So, yeah, the number of FB fans has grown slightly, but it ebbs and flows. Sometimes what pops into my brain are swear words, and that will drive some people away. No harm, no foul. I am not for all tastes there, but my page, my rules. In the real world, I’m learning to be a bit more genteel.

As to Twitter, I use it when I remember, but 140 characters? Please, it takes me a thousand words to say hello.

Cathy: Tell us a little about how your intensive will work. Will there be writing exercises? What do you hope that people will take away? Do you have a favorite short session you’re presenting that attendees should be sure to attend? (I know, all of them! haha)

Matthew: The intensive workshop will be LOTS of writing. I’m a believer in writers write and sweat equity.  There’s no writer’s block, there’s no “I’m just not feeling it,” none of that. We’re going to work hard that day because that’s the JOB. Not the hobby, not the fun time…okay, that’s a lie, it’s all fun time, but we will write.

What do I hope people will take away? That this is a hard job, that it’s time consuming, that it’s a pain in the backside sometimes, but that they can do it, too. That they have to believe in themselves, in their talent, and in their desire. There’s a lot of rejection in this business, but if you’re willing to endure it, the rewards are…magical. More than anything else, go away with the knowledge, the belief, that good writing sells.

Do I have a favorite session? Like any good parent, I love all my sessions fervently and equally.

Cathy:  Is there something you wish you had known earlier in your career? What is the best advice you’ve ever been given about writing?

Matthew: I wish I had known EVERYTHING earlier in my career. I wish I had trusted myself enough to go to college to be a writer. I’m late to the party. I attended my first conference at thirty-one  I turned pro at thirty-five. What kept me from feeling that I was horribly behind everyone else was that Raymond Chandler was forty-five before he got published and it seemed to work out for him. This isn’t just publishing, this is what I wish I had known earlier in life. You can be anything you want, if you’re willing to work harder at it than you have anything else. Best advice I ever got, I heard wrong. Karl and Max both told me early on, “Don’t quit your day job.” Ever the editor, I stopped listening at don’t quit  So, that’s my advice…DON’T QUIT!

Cathy: Would you like to add anything else to share with our readers?

Matthew: Do I have anything to add? For the first-time attendees: Don’t panic. Breathe. There’s plenty of time, really. Be patient. Did I mention don’t panic? There will be a time toward the end of the weekend when your brain locks. DON’T PANIC. Happens to everyone. You will still learn. You might even do what I did after my first conference. I went home, brain completely fried. Convinced myself I hadn’t learned anything, just too much stuff in too short a time. Then, a couple weeks later, while writing, I did something I couldn’t have done before the conference. It was like the sky opened up and the sun came out. Just remember, the first time, in most things, is the hardest. Come, sit, write, share. Some of the others don’t even bite. Just know, we’re all sitting in the same pew here, and you are welcome.

*****

Matthew’s Part I session is:

Researching and Writing the Mystery/Suspense/Thriller Thing — This interactive session, with a focus on craft, will touch on the differences in genres, the elements of plot, character development, dialogue, writing stronger sentences, and the building and acceleration of suspense. We will discuss many aspects of the writing process from getting ideas to building them into a saleable novel. The only pre-class assignment is to watch the film “Jaws.”

Last week to still sign up for just Part I and take Matthew’s class!

Matthew’s Part II sessions include:

  • Two Paths to a Common Goal (with John Gilstrap). No two writers follow the same path to success. In fact, even the definition of “success” is hard to nail down. John Gilstrap and Matthew Clemens came at the challenge from entirely different directions. In this session, they’ll talk about their respective journeys – the successes and the failures. And they’ll answer any questions you may have about what works and what doesn’t.
  • Dialog: It’s Not Just He Said, She Said. This session will assist you in the writing of realistic dialog and building a scene around what is far more than just the conversation.
  • Character: It’s More than Just a Name on the Page.This session is devoted to creating and developing characters that live on the page, as well as in our mind.  We’ll work on building characters that will stick with the reader even after the book is finished.