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.

Q&A with thriller author Matthew V. Clemens

ClemensLong-time MWW attendee, faculty, and board member Matthew V. Clemens, with his collaborator, Max Allan Collins, has penned 17 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 also have authored thrillers — You Can’t Stop Me, No One Will Hear You, What Doesn’t Kill Her, and  Supreme Justice for Thomas & Mercer. Fate of the Union was released in November 2015, and the next Reeder and Rogers thriller is due this year. A resident of Davenport, Iowa, Matthew can’t quite recall if he first discovered MWW in 1990 or ’91, but he’s attended every conference since. Matthew’s high regard and affection for MWW is mutual, and we look forward to welcoming him back to Muncie for his 25th (or is it his 26th?) conference this July.

MWW committee member Janis Thornton won the lottery, and her interview with Matthew follows.

MWW: You identify author R. Karl Largent (a frequent MWW faculty member until he died in 2003) as a writing mentor, who greatly influence your writing. (1) What other MWW faculty have made a positive impact on your career? (2) What were the most inspiring and helpful insights they taught you about writing? (3) How have you applied them to your writing over the years? (4) How do you incorporate those lessons into your workshops and pass them on to your attendees?

MC: 1) Holy frijoles, all of them. I’ve met amazing people, legends, at MWW since my first conference in 1991. Joyce Carol Oates, George Plimpton, William Brashler, Donald E. Westlake. So many people that I read when I was learning. More recently, I have learned a ton from John Gilstrap, William Kent Krueger, and Julie Hyzy, in particular. You never know enough about storytelling. I don’t care who you are, and the moment you stop learning is the moment you begin to wither.

2) I have no real idea how to answer this. Every insight is helpful in some way. Karl taught me PYAITCAW — Plant Your Ass In The Chair And Write. That, more than any other tidbit is the one that has kept me going. I’ve learned to write tight, to get in and get out, and a thousand other bits that are all part of the process.

3) This is a weird one. Some lessons you know right away — okay, I can use that, I can do this step better because I’ve learned this tip. But I remember after my very first writers’ conference that I went home annoyed, thinking I hadn’t learned much. Then, about a month later, I wrote something that made me just stop as I realized that before the conference there was no way I could have written that piece, that paragraph, even that sentence.

 These tips we learn, they all go into the simmering soup that is our creative brain, and we may not even know they’re there, like bay leaves, but sooner or later they surface and you understand how important these little bay leaves of knowledge are to what you’re trying to accomplish. Not everything is cayenne pepper and immediately noticeable, but it is all part of the whole.

4) My first conference as a student was 1987, so almost thirty years of learning to tell a story as well as I can, the last twenty-four as a professional and I still feel there’s so much to learn, but when I teach, I try to bring up as much of what I’ve learned as I can. You throw it all out there and some of it will stick in this person’s brain, some totally different item will be important to someone else. It boils down to teachable moments and hearing the thing you need when you’re ready to hear it. Writing is not a destination; it’s a journey. The sooner you understand that, the easier it is to accept that not everything you do is perfect, or even good sometimes, but you keep at it, you keep learning, and you get better.

MWW: You met your favorite author, Max Allan Collins, at a 1987 writers’ conference, when you were still a budding writer. At that event, Collins told you that your writing had possibilities. Just five years later, you sold your first short story and quit your day job. To top it off, before the decade ended, Collins had become your writing partner. So the burning question is: What did you do after 1987 to hone the writing skills that helped you land a partnership with Collins.

MC: I wrote every day. I read every day. Then eventually, I started working as a freelance editor. Along the way, I met Pat Gipple and we collaborated on Dead Water: The Klindt Affair. That was a true crime book about a murder in our hometown. In doing that, I met some police investigators who became friends. About that time, Max and I started writing short stories together and looking for something we could do in a novel format. When he was offered the tie-in gig doing novels for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, he called me and asked if my cop contacts would help us get the forensics right. I sat down with a crime scene investigator I knew who fed us the correct science, and Max and I ended up doing ten novels, four graphic novels, and short stories for eight CSI jigsaw puzzles and even designed the story for a CSI: Miami computer game. Our collaboration has continued, and now I’m putting the finishing touches on my draft of our twenty-fourth novel.

MWW: When did fiction thrillers and true crime first draw you in as an author? What about them attracted you?

MC: I started reading mysteries in grade school. First, it was Donald Sobel’s Encyclopedia Brown series, then I skipped the Hardy Boys and went straight into what has been a lifelong love of Sherlock Holmes. As both reader and writer, I am attracted to seeing justice meted out, and as I have gotten older, I’m interested in trying to understand what makes people capable of the cruelty we inflict on one another. There is always a conflict of some sort to be resolved, and honestly, I like to see the good guys win.

MWW: Just as your books thrill readers, whose books thrill you?

MC: So many authors, so many good books. Because of my schedule, I tend to read my friends. I love Gilstrap, Hyzy, and Krueger. I’m late to the party on people like Johnny Shaw, Sean Chercover, and Lou Berney, but they’re all great, too. A lot of what I read is in my capacity as a consulting editor. Some of my clients are published, some not, but I read a lot of good books that way, too.

MWW: Your intensive workshop, “Making Your Thriller Thrilling,” promises to reveal steps for writing a suspenseful thriller: characters, settings, building suspense, incorporating other ingredients such as humor. What do you want your attendees to know before they step into your classroom?

MC: You need to know we’re going to write in class. Writers write. I’ll talk a lot, but we learn this craft by doing, so we’re going to spend time writing and talking about what we’ve written. I would love them to all take a couple of hours before class to watch “Jaws.” That movie is a great tool for learning how to create suspense, and how to use humor to break tension.

MWW: And now, before we close, I’d like to offer you the last word — perhaps you’d like to share a tidbit of insight to put attendees at ease, or maybe you’d rather ramp up the tension with some intrigue. It’s up to you, Matthew!

MC: Put my attendees at ease? I’m going to make someone cry. Happens every year. I have a streak to protect. Seriously, we’re going to have fun, we’re going to work hard, and if this works like it should, we will all learn something new. Even when leading a seminar, I learn something too. Storytelling is a vast art form, and there are as many ways to do it, as there are people who imagine telling a story. What I will do is pass along what I’ve learned, and what has kept me afloat in an ever-changing publishing world for the last quarter century.

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Matthew’s Part I session is:
Making Your Thriller Thrilling:  From inception to completion, we will touch on the steps to writing an exciting, suspenseful thriller.  Creating real-life characters, intriguing settings, building suspense, and even using humor. We will also discuss adding tools to your writer’s toolbox that will allow you to succeed regardless of your chosen genre. Not just a lecture, we will do numerous writing exercises in a workshop setting. [NOTE: this session is 53% full! Register soon!]
His Part II sessions are:
Saturday, 1:15-2:15 p.m.– Panel on the crime writing business (also includes Lori Rader-Day, Larry D. Sweazy and D.E. Johnson)
Saturday, 2:30-3:30 p.m.– Master Class: Nuts And Bolts: Basics Of Novel Writing + The Book Doctor Is In. A discussion of completing a novel from the first glimmer of an idea through writing a complete manuscript. Gleaning an idea, developing it, researching it, writing the first draft, revising, and editing, all the way through to searching for the perfect agent for your work. Including a 25-point checklist to know if you’re done with your novel. Matthew uses the checklist is his own work and as a developmental editor.

Q&A with Larry D. Sweazy

MWW welcomes mystery author Larry D. Sweazy!

Sweazy Larry2Larry is the author of 12 novels, including A Thousand Falling Crows, See Also Murder, Vengeance at Sundown, The Coyote Tracker, The Devil’s Bones, and The Rattlesnake Season. He won Western Writers of America Spur awards for Best Short Fiction in 2005 and for Best Paperback Original in 2013. He also received the 2011 and 2012 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction for the Josiah Wolfe series. He was nominated for a Derringer Award in 2007, and was a finalist in the Best Books of Indiana literary competition in 2010, and won in 2011 for The Scorpion Trail. He has published more than 60 nonfiction articles and short stories, which have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; Boys’ Life; Hardboiled; Amazon Shorts, and several other publications and anthologies. He is a freelance indexer and has written back-of-the-book indexes for more than 850 books in 19 years, which served as inspiration for the Marjorie Trumaine mystery series.

Larry is teaching an intensive session for Part I on Thursday, July 21, 2016.

It’s A Mystery

Some mystery novels are gritty and dark, while others are light and funny. No matter what type of mystery novel you are writing, all of them have basic elements that require attention and skill. This class will be part lecture, part workshop, with plenty of room for discussion with multiple award-winning author Larry D. Sweazy about characterization, plot, setting, fair play, writing a successful mystery series, and much more. 
MWW committee member Cathy Shouse interviewed Larry about what he will teach at this summer’s conference.
MWW: What does it feel like to have such a complimentary, starred review by Publisher’s Weekly for See Also Murder? … “[A] terrific first in a projected series… The characters are superbly drawn, and the prairie–its flatness, winds, and critters–is an evocative character in its own right.”
LDS: It’s always a good day when an author gets a great review like the one in  Publishers Weekly. It means the book might get a little extra push into the world and make it easier for readers to find. This review was especially gratifying.  See Also Murder, and the series as a whole, was a huge risk for me to write. I had previously published paperback Westerns, a naturally perceived male-dominated genre. My main character in this series is a middle-aged woman who lives on a North Dakota farm in the mid-1960s. My publisher, Seventh Street Books, took a huge leap of faith, too, with the series idea and me. The fact that Marjorie has been well-received helped to validate that risk and what I have believed all along: There are no limitations to what a writer can, or should, write about. No one should ever tell a writer that they can’t at least try to write something outside of the box. If I had told myself that I couldn’t write in Marjorie’s voice then I would have shortchanged myself as an artist, and, most importantly, the readers who have enjoyed her stories.
MWW: Please provide some details for the intensive class on mystery writing that you’ll present Thursday. What kind of information will you provide? Will there be writing in class? 
LDS: I learn the most in classes that are interactive.  I like a little bit of lecture, learning from the experience of the instructor, then applying the lessons, and finally, talking about what we have learned. I hope to balance those elements in this class. Yes, there will be writing. Students should be prepared to work, but I also know that everyone has some burning questions that they want to find the answer to, so discussions are important part of my classes. We all have something we can learn from one another.
MWW: Give us a thumbnail sketch about how you landed in the mystery genre. With so many different sub genres, how would you describe yours and how is it faring in popularity these days?
LDS: I’ve always read and loved mysteries, even though I got my start in the Western genre. If one thinks about it, there are plenty of mystery elements in a Western. There’s usually a crime of some kind, which in turn demands a law enforcement character to set the wrong back to right. My first five novels were Westerns, then I published a modern-day mystery (set in Indiana), a few more Westerns, then to where I am now, which is writing all mysteries. I would argue that a majority of my novels have been mysteries. They were just shelved in a different section. I think the mystery genre is as healthy as it’s ever been. Readers seem to have an insatiable appetite for murder, mayhem, and ultimately justice, which is the reason we read mysteries in the first place.
MWW: What has been your most memorable career experience, or just the award you are most proud of?
LDS: That’s an interesting question. I’ve been lucky with awards and good reviews. I’m happy that I get to write every day and that readers seem to enjoy what I do. I recently received a letter from a reader who read my books while she took care of her elderly mother. My books, she said, provided an escape and some much needed entertainment from a dreary and hopeless situation. To know that your work moved someone, took them away to a different place, and gave them a little relief from reality is what writing and storytelling is all about. I’m proud to know that I did my job as a writer for that reader. Honestly, that’s as good as it gets.
MWW: What would you say to those on the fence about coming to your intensive, those who are perhaps nervous about their skill level or how much value an in-person class can offer them?
LDS: I attended this workshop over twenty years ago. I remember what it’s like to be starting out. What I remember the most about my early workshop experience is that it was encouraging and safe. I was surrounded by people who wanted to see me succeed. I had something in common with everyone there–the aspiration to become a writer and to improve my craft. The faculty was approachable and generous, willing to share their knowledge no matter how successful they were. Making the commitment to come to a workshop like MWW is huge, not only financially, but emotionally. Perhaps it’s the first time a person has put their dream out for public view, or shared their work with a room full of strangers. It can be scary, but it can also be a gratifying and instructive experience to get honest feedback, and to see a path that will allow the dream to become a reality. It did for me.
MWW: Anything else to add?
LDS: I say this all of the time. Dream big. Work hard. Never give up. Do those three things and you’ll be surprised at what happens. What are you waiting for?
Follow on Twitter: @larrydsweazy

MWW celebrates National Poetry Month

Midwest Writers Workshop celebrates National Poetry Month with a poetry reading on Wednesday, April 6th, 7:30 p.m. at Vera Maes Bistro in downtown Muncie, IN.  All are welcome and the event is free.
Reading selections of their work that night will be:
David Shumate
Allyson Horton
Jeremy Flick
David Shumate is the author of Kimonos in the Closet, The Floating Bridge and High Water Mark, winner of the 2003 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. His poetry has appeared widely in literary journals and has been anthologized in Good Poems for Hard Times, The Best American Poetry, and The Writer’s Almanac. Shumate is poet-in-residence at Marian University and lives in Zionsville, Indiana.
Allyson Horton  is a native of Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from Indiana University and received her MFA in creative writing from Butler University. Her poetry has recently been published in The Wabash Watershed Journal. She is a member of InterUrban, an inspired writers’ group that has its poetic roots in Indiana. Currently, she teaches at Butler University and serves as a Parent Involvement Educator within the IPS school system.
Jeremy Flick  is native of Indianapolis, Indiana. He currently holds a BA in English with concentration in Creative Writing and is a second year Master’s student in Creative Writing at Ball State University. His poetry is forthcoming in The Birds We Piled Loosely.
Poetry reading April 6

Your first 10 pages evaluated! Register now!

This is what Midwest Writers does: we provide writers with opportunities to improve their writing.

So, take advantage of THIS opportunity!

Get the first 10 pages of your manuscript evaluated by TWO professional authors and editors.

MWW October 10th “Manuscript Makeover for FICTION” session with Holly Miller and Dr. Dennis Hensley still has openings.

If you write any kind of fiction (young adult, contemporary, romance, literary fiction, women’s fiction, middle grade, fantasy, science fiction — really, we can’t list them all) — except mystery and we offer a separate Manuscript Makeover for that, see below — then sign up for this one-day intensive session.

MWW-16Manuscript Makeover is limited to 20 participants who have fiction projects–either novels or short stories-in progress. The six-hour workshop is led by Holly G. Miller, author of  Feature and Magazine Writing and consulting editor to two national magazines, and Dennis E. Hensley, chair of the professional writing department at Taylor University and author of  Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours. After registering for the class, each participant should e-mail a one-page synopsis–with a working title–plus the first nine pages of his/her project to dnhensley@hotmail.com. Please double-space and format in 12-point Times New Roman font.

Holly and Dennis will personally edit all pages to return to the authors at the workshop. In addition, the instructors will display on a screen and discuss portions of each student’s manuscript. Students will receive folders filled with handouts plus their edited manuscript midway through the day. As time permits, Holly and Dennis will discuss plots, character development, editing techniques, finding an agent, and marketing a published book.

The instructors have co-authored seven books together-including a series of novels as well as completed several solo book assignments.

*****

Here’s what others say about their MM experience:

Rod Huron:

Wow!  Am I glad I came to the MWW Manuscript Makeover.  Dennis and Holly enabled me to see what I had missed before.  Their help was sensible, practical and needed.  Glad I came.

Kassie Ritman:

You could spend weeks, even months pouring over countless “how-to” books covering every detail needed to successfully publish your manuscript–or–you could spend a day at the Midwest Writers’ Manuscript Makeover!

Like most writers, I tend to be quite solitary in nature. So I was shaking in my lucky boots last spring while I clicked the “send” button that signed me up!

Arriving, day-of, my knees were still knocking as we all introduced ourselves and exchanged pleasantries. I was both shocked and surprised by the variant levels of career achievement of the writers surrounding me. There were beginners (like me) and there were seasoned, working pros, genre hoppers and even those who were already represented by agents! The most amazing part was realizing (only one hour into the workshop) I really wanted to skip lunch! The feedback on my own work in progress was priceless, but seeing excerpts and hearing the critique of other writer’s works was absolutely golden. Their samples started discussions about pitfalls I knew I had lurking in my own manuscript (perhaps several chapters down the story-line). I also learned what I was doing well which was a sorely needed boost to my trembling ego!

I really, really, enjoyed the day! I’m still corresponding with another one of the participants, and we have been beta reading and peer coaching each other. Even though we write in totally different genres, it’s been a super experience!

Wendy Hart Beckman:

I participated in Holly Miller and Dennis Hensley’s Manuscript Makeover in March 2015. Even though I have published eight nonfiction books, I knew I could still learn a lot from this pair of talented writers and presenters! My Makeover experience was even better than I’d hoped, because I am currently in the middle of a project, writing with a co-author for the first time, and my co-author was able to attend with me. As I expected, the day was full of great instruction and grand inspiration!

REGISTER HERE!

October 10, 8:30 am – 3:00 pm

Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, IN

Let’s talk about ROI—Return on Investment. If you choose to invest in your writing career by attending the Manuscript Makeover workshop, here’s what you’ll get in return:

  • The opening 10 pages and the synopsis of your novel will be double-edited by two professional writers who have written, between them, more than 35 published books.
  • You’ll receive feedback from other participants in the workshop, many of whom comprise your target audience.
  • Your working title will be discussed and compared with the titles of current bestsellers.
  • You’ll complete a “blooper quiz” (no grades, we promise) that will sharpen your line-editing skills.
  • You’ll be given a folder filled with handouts that have been custom-prepared to help you move your manuscript closer to publication.
  • You’ll leave the workshop knowing exactly what your next steps should be.

Who should attend Manuscript Makeover? You’ll find the workshop helpful if you identify with one of these three situations:

  1. If you’ve barely begun a book project and are unsure if you should continue;
  2. if you’ve completed a book-length manuscript and wonder if it’s ready to be sent to an agent or editor;
  3. if you’ve completed a book-length manuscript and have attempted to market it but without success.

This is a busy day, but it’s also a fun day. Everyone is on a first-name basis because as different as we are, we have a lot in common: We’re readers and we’re writers, even if our words have yet to be published!

Two other MM sessions also have a few openings!

“Manuscript Makeover for MYSTERY” Led by Terence Faherty

Terence Faherty is a two-time Edgar nominee for the Owen Keane series, which follows the adventures of a failed seminarian turned meta-physical detective. He is a two-time winner of the Shamus Award for his Scott Elliott private eye series, which is set in the golden age of Hollywood. His short fiction has won the Macavity Award from Mystery Readers International. His latest book,  The Quiet Woman,  is a romantic mystery set in Ireland, with a ghost.

“Manuscript Makeover for NONFICTION” Led by Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the author of 26 books, 22 in nonfiction. His thousands of nonfiction articles have been published by Harper’s, The Nation, Saturday Evening Post, GQ, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Fraternal Law, Diablo (city) Magazine, Boston Magazine, Indianapolis Monthly and many more.

Mystery author Terence Faherty teaching Manuscript Makeover

A recommendation to register for the October 10, 2015 Manuscript Makeover sessions from Lori Rader-Day

Lori Rader-Day’s debut mystery, The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books, 2014), received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal and was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her second mystery, Little Pretty Things, was released from Seventh Street on July 7. Her short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Good Housekeeping, and others. She grew up in Boone County, Indiana, and attended Ball State University.

Does it feel like there’s a line between you and “real writers”? Back before I had finished my first novel, that’s how I felt. I had studied writing, I had even published some short stories–but I didn’t feel as though I had crossed over into that other place I knew existed. I could see them over there: authors, working, being productive, finishing full novels.

Things finally clicked for me when, through Midwest Writers Workshop, I met mystery author Terence Faherty. With only a few pointers on my first ten pages, Terry managed to give me enough direction and confidence to reimagine my manuscript and make it so much better. I figured out in just a few hours what it meant to be a working writer and how to see my own work more critically. The book Terry helped me with will be published next July.

I would highly recommend a Manuscript Makeover with Terry Faherty for anyone writing mystery or who might want to work on suspense, pacing, and character development in any fiction project.

REGISTER HERE!

October 10, 8:30 am – 3:00 pm

Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, IN

“Manuscript Makeover for MYSTERY” Led by Terence Faherty

FahertyTerence Faherty is a two-time Edgar nominee for the Owen Keane series, which follows the adventures of a failed seminarian turned meta-physical detective. He is a two-time winner of the Shamus Award for his Scott Elliott private eye series, which is set in the golden age of Hollywood. His short fiction has won the Macavity Award from Mystery Readers International. His latest book,  The Quiet Woman,  is a romantic mystery set in Ireland, with a ghost.

PLUS TWO OTHER SESSIONS AVAILABLE:

“Manuscript Makeover for FICTION” Led by Holly Miller & Dr. Dennis E. Hensley

Manuscript Makeover is limited to 20 participants who have fiction projects-either novels or short stories-in progress. The six-hour workshop is led by Holly G. Miller, author of  Feature and Magazine Writing and consulting editor to two national magazines, and Dennis E. Hensley, chair of the professional writing department at Taylor University and author of Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours.  The instructors have co-authored seven books together-including a series of novels, as well as completed several solo book assignments.

“Manuscript Makeover for NONFICTION” Led by Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the author of 26 books, 22 in nonfiction. His thousands of nonfiction articles have been published by Harper’s, The Nation, Saturday Evening Post, GQ, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Fraternal Law, Diablo (city) Magazine, Boston Magazine, Indianapolis Monthly and many more.

Three Manuscript Makeover sessions: Oct 10, 2015

MWW offers One-Day Intensive “Manuscript Makeover” Sessions

October 10, 2015 at Ball State Alumni Center, 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

On Saturday, October 10, MWW offers THREE intensive sessions in our very popular Manuscript Makeover format, where participants submit the first 10 pages of their works-in-progress for evaluation.

“Manuscript Makeover for FICTION” led by Holly Miller and Dr. Dennis E. Hensley

“Manuscript Makeover for MYSTERY” led by Terence Faherty

“Manuscript Makeover for NONFICTION” led by Hank Nuwer

Give your writing a boost with hands-on help for your work-in-progress! These special intensive sessions will be held at the Ball State Alumni Center, (Muncie, IN) from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm. Class size is limited! Attend the session of your choice for $155 (includes a brown bag lunch so the work continues to flow).

REGISTER HERE!

“Manuscript Makeover for FICTION” Led by Holly Miller & Dr. Dennis E. Hensley

Hensley DennisMiller-HollyManuscript Makeover is limited to 20 participants who have fiction projects—either novels or short stories—in progress. The six-hour workshop is led by Holly G. Miller, author of Feature and Magazine Writing and consulting editor to two national magazines, and Dennis E. Hensley, chair of the professional writing department at Taylor University and author of Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours. After registering for the class, each participant should e-mail a one-page synopsis—with a working title—plus the first nine pages of his/her project to dnhensley@hotmail.com. Please double-space and format in 12-point Times New Roman font. Holly and Dennis will personally edit all pages to return to the authors at the workshop. In addition, the instructors will display on a screen and discuss portions of each student’s manuscript. Students will receive folders filled with handouts plus their edited manuscript midway through the day. As time permits, Holly and Dennis will discuss plots, character development, editing techniques, finding an agent, and marketing a published book.

The instructors have co-authored seven books together—including a series of novels as well as completed several solo book assignments. Don’t hesitate; this workshop always fills up quickly and is offered only once a year. If you have questions, e-mail them to hollygmill@sbcglobal.net or dnhensley@hotmail.com .

“Manuscript Makeover for MYSTERY” Led by Terence Faherty

Faherty PortraitThis Manuscript Makeover is limited to 10 participants who have a mystery or crime writing manuscript in progress. Each participant will submit the opening ten pages of a book-in-progress, along with a one-page synopsis. These pages will be critiqued by Terry and then examined (on an overhead) in class. As a group, the session will discuss, practice, review, and apply this revision process to our drafts. We’ll explore the elements of craft that make a mystery novel impossible to put down. Whether you write cozies or hard-boiled, PI or amateur sleuth, you’ll learn how the effective use of plot, narrative, voice, setting, character, dialogue, and suspense can take your work to the next level. Email your submission to midwestwriters@yahoo.com.

Terence Faherty is a two-time Edgar nominee for the Owen Keane series, which follows the adventures of a failed seminarian turned metaphysical detective. He is a two-time winner of Shamus Award for his Scott Elliott private eye series, which is set in the golden age of Hollywood.  His short fiction has won the Macavity Award from Mystery Readers International.  His latest book, The Quiet Woman, is a romantic mystery set in Ireland, with a ghost.

“Manuscript Makeover for NONFICTION” Led by Hank Nuwer

Nuwer HankThis interactive intensive is designed for all nonfiction writers. This includes writers of creative nonfiction, literary journalism, memoir, service (how to) journalism and features of all types. Participants (limited to 10) will submit the first 10 pages of a manuscript in progress. Hank will edit and critique these pages and display them (anonymously) to the class as a way of revealing strengths and weaknesses in the material. Additionally, Hank will lead the participants in writing exercises and offer advice on such topics as using dialogue and scene setting, learning to self-edit and to remove manuscript clutter, finding the right markets for manuscripts and guarding your time so you can produce while working full time, raising children, or taking care of an elderly parent. Email your submission to hnuwer@franklincollege.edu.

Hank Nuwer is the author of 26 books, 22 in nonfiction. His thousands of nonfiction articles have been published by Harper’s, The Nation, Saturday Evening Post, GQ, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Fraternal Law, Diablo (city) Magazine, Boston Magazine, Indianapolis Monthly and many more.

 

Q&A with Heidi Schulz

Heidi_Schulz_PhotoHeidi Schulz, first and foremost, is a storyteller who wanted to be a writer for the better part of her life. And once she got down to it, success followed. Her debut novel for middle grade readers, Hook’s Revenge, was published by Disney Hyperion in 2014. Its sequel, Hook’s Revenge: The Pirate Code is due out in September. In addition, Bloomsbury Kids will publish her picture book, Giraffes Ruin Everything, in the spring of 2016. It’s been a whirlwind of a start for Heidi, and MWW is eager to welcome her to its 2015 workshop. Committee member Janis Thornton snagged a few minutes from Heidi’s very busy schedule recently to ask a few questions about her writing career, her process, and what tips she hopes to impart at MWW15.

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MWW: When did you receive “the calling” to write? How long did it take you to answer “yes,” and why did you choose the middle grade reader as your target audience?

HS: For as long as I can remember, I have loved to tell stories. I remember telling my kindergarten teacher a tale about going up in an airplane (something I hadn’t actually done at that point in my life). I told her that I saw an escaped balloon floating by, so I opened a window and grabbed it. That year, I learned a lot about the difference between telling fibs and creating fiction.

As I got older, I continued telling stories: sleepover ghost stories that scared me more than anyone, funny stories about where my little brother really came from (that he was a shaved, tailless monkey is one I still remember), and eventually, bedtime stories for my daughter.

I also wrote in my journal and later, on a personal blog. I always thought I would write books one day, but I was waiting for the right idea. Good thing it arrived! I’ve since learned that I can’t sit around waiting for an idea to fall on me. I have to go out and grab it. The best ideas come when I am writing the worst ones.

As far as writing middle-grade, just a few days ago I was talking with a friend about why I think I am drawn to this category. I had a very difficult period of time toward the end of elementary school. Things were hard at home and things were hard at school. Without getting too personal, I’ll just say I often felt very sad and also unsafe, both physically and emotionally. The only time I felt really secure was when I was lost inside a story. Books brought me comfort, gave me courage, and helped me feel less alone in the world – all things I desperately needed to get me through that time.

Though things eventually got better, I never lost that special love I developed for middle grade stories. The idea that I might be creating a safe place for a child who needs it is such an honor.

MWW: In just three years, you’ve gone from unpublished-but-hopeful author to not only a published novelist (Hook’s Revenge) – but published with Disney behind you, a scheduled release of Book 2 (Hook’s Revenge: The Pirate Code) in September, and a picture book (Giraffes Ruin Everything) due out next spring. <Pause to allow readers to catch their breath.> To what do you credit all of this phenomenal success?

HS: I’m still trying to catch my own breath! I credit hours and hours of hard work, a lot of stubbornness, some talent, a bit of luck, a wonderfully supportive husband and daughter, a truly great agent, and editors that are fantastic to work with.

MWW: You have said that you worked almost eight years on Hook’s Revenge, but in only about a year, you produced its sequel, Hook’s Revenge: The Pirate Code. What were the most valuable lessons you learned that enabled you to so effectively streamline your plotting and writing processes?

HS: That was quite a change, and it was intense. I did very little plotting on Hook’s Revenge. I knew how I wanted the story to end, but only had vague ideas on what should happen to get there. I wrote when I felt like it, a scene here, a chapter there, then put the manuscript away for weeks or months at a time. Writing was a meandering, exploratory process — a fun hobby.

I wrote my second novel on a short timeline, turning in a first draft just eight weeks after I began writing it. I could not have done that without a detailed outline. I spent quite a lot of effort, both on my own and through brainstorming with my agent and editor, creating an extensive plot for The Pirate Code before I began drafting.

That’s not to say there were no surprises along the way. The story changed from that outline to the first draft, and again in each subsequent draft, but I was able to reach my destination much sooner with the use of that map, even if I did go off road from time to time.

Once I was ready to begin writing, I made myself a word count schedule — and later, one for revisions — plotting out the work that needed to be done each day in order to meet my deadlines. I wrote six days a week without fail, but always took a day off to give my brain a rest.

There were writing days I was tempted to keep my laptop closed, but I knew that my job was to create, whether I felt like it or not. I was being paid to tell a great story and I had deadlines to meet. Both those things can be very motivating.

MWW: After two novels, what prompted you to produce a picture book (Giraffes Ruin Everything, due out in the spring)?

HS: I actually sold Giraffes only a couple months after selling Hook’s Revenge. (Picture books can take a long time to publish.) Prior to writing it, I hadn’t thought much about working in any category other than middle grade, but my agent encouraged me to flex my writing muscles and give it a try. I played around with a couple different ideas, but it wasn’t until I tapped into something deeply personal — my utter loathing of giraffes — that I found the story I wanted to tell.

(If you would like to know why I dislike giraffes, I have written about it on my blog: http://blog.heidischulzbooks.com/2012/12/in-which-we-explore-heidis-fear-of-dolls-and-giraffes/)

MWW: You are scheduled to conduct two craft-related sessions for MWW15: “Clearing the Air: Writing Middle Grade Humor that Goes Beyond Fart Jokes”; “Percy Jackson or Katniss Everdeen: Key Differences Between Middle Grade and Young Adult”; and to be part of the panel, “Agent & Author Relationships.” What advice do you plan to give your attendees to help them attain their individual definition of success?

HS: I love that you mention “individual definition of success” because that will vary from person to person and will also change throughout a writer’s career. However, one thing that should remain pretty constant is a striving to continually improve one’s craft, no matter what the person’s other writing goals may be. I plan to give my workshop participants new and/or sharper tools in their writers’ toolboxes, and a better understanding of the different age categories they are writing for.

I also hope attendees will come away from my workshops and panel feeling encouraged and empowered. Each one of them has important things to say. I hope to help them to find, or refine, their voices.

MWW: Heidi, do you have any other information you would like to add?

HS: I would like to applaud all the writers who are spending their resources — time, energy, and money — to attend Midwest Writers in order to improve their craft and industry knowledge.

I’ll also be teaching a free writing workshop for kids at Kids Ink in Indianapolis on the Sunday following the conference. Details can be found here:

http://www.kidsinkbooks.com/young-pirate-inspires-writing-workshop

I hope to see some familiar MWW faces there!

MWW: Thank you, Heidi!

Q&A with Christa Desir

C DesirChrista Desir writes contemporary fiction for young adults. Her novels include Fault Line and Bleed Like Me and the forthcoming Other Broken Things. She lives with her husband, three small children, and overly enthusiastic dog outside of Chicago. She has volunteered as a rape victim activist for more than ten years, including providing direct service as an advocate in hospital ERs. She also works as an editor at Samhain Publishing.

MWW Planning Committee member Cathy Shouse interviewed Christa about the sessions she will present at MWW15.

*   *   *

MWW: Please tell us your background and something about your path to getting published in YA.

CD: Well, I wrote a terrible book. It was awful. I revised it 57 times, but it was still terrible. The idea was good, but I didn’t have the first clue what I was doing. Then I started to connect with lots of people who did know. I had writing mentors and critique partners and I went to workshops and I learned how NOT TO SUCK. (Pro tip: part of this is knowing you’ll suck the first several times around and you have to keep going and practicing until you don’t suck anymore.) So, one of the workshops I went to was a writing workshop for rape survivors, and I wrote a scene in that workshop that was told from a seventeen-year-old boy’s point of view, and somehow, that voice crawled inside me and took up residence. Six months later, Fault Line was ready to go. Except it wasn’t, of course. More revision with my agent, more revision with my editor, more fixing, more trying to inch further away from sucking. And two years later, I had my first published book. Still imperfect (because there is no perfect in writing), but closer.

MWW: At MWW, you’ll be discussing how writers can use their life experiences as fodder for writing YA. You’ve written about date rape and others write about difficult topics as well, like cancer and death. Any tips for writers looking to write edgy who are without personal experience on difficult topics?

CD: Everyone has difficult personal experiences because life is messy. You don’t have to write about the world’s worst experiences to make a book meaningful and connect with readers. I took a writing class once that had us do an assignment: write about the worst thing you’ve ever done. Then we read a short story about a woman whose best friend was sick in the hospital and she couldn’t get up the courage to visit her. It wasn’t edgy, but rather soft and lovely and spoke about some very real and painful human truths. So “writing edgy” isn’t the point as much as writing something authentic that will connect you with readers. One of the books I absolutely love is The Chocolate War, which from the outside seems to be about a boy who doesn’t want to sell chocolate bars for his school. Hardly edgy. But there are so many layers to that story, so many ways that Cormier connects to readers, you realize that what may seem simple is actually quite complex. Every character is in a different kind of struggle in that book, grieving and pushing and pulling for power, and it doesn’t really have to do with chocolate at all. That authenticity is what I want writers to search for in themselves.

MWW:  What would you say is the top one, or three mistakes, people make with the genre?

CD: That’s a very BROAD question, but mostly I think people’s mistakes in writing (and life) come from trying to follow too many rules. Yes, rules exist for good reasons and there are how-to’s for everything, but each person’s journey, how they learn, how they find their voice, how they engage, that’s different, and rules are very confining. I’m one of those people who finds the line someone has drawn in the sand and will do just about anything to figure out if I can cross it. That makes for authentic writing, and authentic human-ing. To me the purpose of rules in writing is to figure out what you really care about and why things matter. Everything else is just personal preference.

MWW: In general, tell us a little about what to expect from your intensive session, and the Part II sessions. What stage should a YA writer be in to benefit most from your classes? Specifically, who is your ideal attendee for these sessions?

CD: What’s fun about my intensive is that it’s for all levels of writers, because we’re talking more about the human side of us vs. the nitty-gritty of craft. And that has a lot to do with finding your voice, figuring out what you believe and what you want to include on the page and what you don’t. I think new writers will benefit from it if they are worried about what to write, and I think seasoned writers will benefit from it if they’re wanting to push themselves a little out of their comfort zone.

MWW: Do you have any advice or general thought for those who want to break into YA?

CD: Write more, read more, listen to people’s stories, have a rich and full life, make friends with other writers, stay out of Twitter drama, fail boldly, repeat.

MWW: In trying to get to know you a bit better, what is a surprising or unique aspect of who you are, either personal- or business-wise, something that would serve as an icebreaker if we were to meet?

CD: I’m made up of many flavors. I do roller derby, and work with rape survivors, and edit erotic romance, and teach Sunday school, and am ragingly awkward and inappropriate in social situations. I’ve had a hundred jobs and am incredibly forgiving of people’s screw-ups because I mess up so frequently in my life. I do a podcast about sex and YA books with my friend Carrie Mesrobian, and the two of us have such strong Midwestern accents when we talk to each other that it sounds like a dirty girl version of “Prairie Home Companion.”

MWW: Would you like to add anything else?  Please let us know some places to connect online. Twitter handle? FB address? Website? Other?

Website: www.christadesir.com

Twitter: @ChristaDesir

FB: https://www.facebook.com/ChristaDesirAuthor

Q&A with Martha Brockenbrough

marthabrockenbroughMartha Brockenbrough (rhymes with broken toe) is the author of two books for adults and five books for young readers. She’s the founder of National Grammar Day (every March 4), and she’s written game questions for Cranium and Trivial Pursuit. The former editor of MSN.com, Martha has interviewed lots of celebrities, including the Jonas Brothers and Slash (his favorite dinosaur is the diplodocus). Her work has been published in a variety of places, including The New York Times. She also wrote an educational humor column for the online encyclopedia Encarta for nine years. Her debut novel Devine Intervention, was one of Kirkus Reviews Top 100 books for teens in 2012, and was a Kansas State Reading Circle selection. Her books include the middle grade nonfiction opus Finding Bigfoot, and a picture book called The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy. Her YA novel The Game of Love and Death was released April 2015 by Scholastic. Martha has taught writing for children at the University of Washington continuing education program and elsewhere. She lives in Seattle with her family.

An  L.A Times reviewer said about Devine Intervention: “It is a pleasure to read a writer who so delights in language, and who writes so captivatingly in a teen voice with such imaginative description.”

Kirkus reviews: “The rules governing Jerome’s afterlife lead to frequently hysterical prose…. Beneath the snark, though, runs a current of devastatingly honest writing that surprises with its occasional beauty and hits home with the keenness of its insight.”

And Booklist gave a starred review for The Game of Love, released in April. “This original novel is a thoughtful exploration of courage, love, and the price we pay to live.”

MWW committee member Cathy Shouse interviewed Martha for our E-pistle e-newletter issue.

MWW: Please tell us something about your background, how you became a novelist, and perhaps enlighten us on what an “educational humor column” is.

MB: I was one of five kids, and always sort of the odd one out. My brothers and sisters were matched pairs, and I spent a lot of my time putting my cat in baby clothes and carrying him around in a basket, and when he’d had enough of the indignity, I’d read. I loved reading, and once I realized that there were new books being written by people who were not yet dead, I began to consider it seriously as a career. I was 8 at the time, though, and didn’t know where to start. I read voraciously, though, and often reread the same books until I’d memorized passages and their page numbers. Little did I know I was teaching myself how to put together pleasing sentences and paragraphs (plot and structure came later for me and were harder to achieve). I had a number of other careers before becoming a writer: teacher, journalist, web producer, game question writer. The educational humor column, which I wrote for the online encyclopedia Encarta, was my first regular freelance job. It was so much fun–I could write about anything that interested me, and my goal was to interest readers enough to pursue more information on the subject. I wrote about bigfoot, grammar, secret societies, the influence of names, happiness … a lot of what I learned doing that column for nine years still informs my writing and my life. I also believe that writers of fiction would benefit greatly by reading a lot of nonfiction. The more of the world we can draw into our stories, the richer they will be.

MWW: You have received glowing reviews of your work that many of us would dream of getting. Does such acclaim influence your writing? If so, how?

MB: The thing with reviews is that they come after your work is done and after you have spent a lot of time with your agent, your brilliant editor, his team of assistants and copy editors and proof readers, the book designers and illustrators and marketers and sales people….

All of these things shape reviews, particularly the hands-on work of your editor, which is why I am fortunate to work with one of the masters. Great reviews tend to come when everyone on the team has pulled out all of the stops. That said, not every book is for every reader, and there is a lot of luck that comes into it. Did your book fall into the hands of someone who was ready for it at that time? That matters, too. What I’m saying here is that reviews are about a lot of things and not just your work, and you can’t let them take up too much space in your head.

The better thing, I think, is to develop your own sense of excellence in storytelling.

This is a combination of many things: character, setting, plot, theme, language, inventiveness … Make each of those as strong as you can. Make each story as big and beautiful as it can be. Challenge yourself. Persist. Take time. Of equal importance is understanding your own strengths and the unique aspects of your voice and point of view as an artist. The more deeply you can go into your own well, the more humanity will flow on the page.

The process really is everything. It can take many years to write a book. My own books each contain fragments of my life reinterpreted through fiction. There are moments from many years ago whose meaning I come to understand when struggling with a story. I like that. I’m also glad to work hard, to hone my patience and persistence, to practice being kind to myself and my fellow writers, and to cultivate the optimism and faith that the discipline will pay off. I think these are good qualities to have as a person, and I really appreciate becoming a better human being through my work (or at least trying to).

Writers can illuminate the human condition. We can alleviate suffering. We can be company to the lonely. It’s a good way to spend a life, and these hours of striving and giving are the thing that matter–not the reviews, although I will forever appreciate my good ones and understand my less-than-great ones, and be grateful for the way they help readers find books.

MWW: It seems to be a good time to be a YA author, since many agents seem to be acquiring it. On the flip side, the competition is fierce. What would you say is the top one, or three mistakes, people make with the genre?

MB: The competition is fierce and this is a good thing for books and readers. If your book isn’t better than what’s on the shelves, it shouldn’t be published. That sounds harsh, yes. But I think that’s the view that pushes the category in new and deep directions. Middle grade is actually a bit more in demand these days–the YA market is saturated because books in this category have been such an immense force in pop culture for the last decade or so.

When I think about books and writing, though, I don’t really think there are category-specific mistakes as much as there are writing mistakes in general.

First, while books for young readers are intended to a young audience, they can and are often enjoyed just as much by adult readers. Why? Because the books are about being young. A picture book like Where the Wild Things Are is about the experience of rage and returning to safe emotional harbors. It works for very young children but it also resonates for adults, almost all of whom will have had that emotional experience and can take pleasure or satisfaction of find catharsis in reading about it.

So, the first mistake might be to think you are writing /for/ someone rather than /about/ being human. Yes, books are for people. But they become so because they contain something meaningful within them. If you think it is somehow easier to write books for children, well, that would be a mistake.

If you are writing for children because “there are no good books for children,” that is also a mistake that reveals either you are not widely read, or you are not yet sophisticated enough as a reader to understand why what you have read is excellent (and it goes without saying that you are not reading books that you buy in non-bookstores that are packaged with stickers and glitter, because those are generally book-like objects and not books). I’m not saying that all books in these categories are universally excellent, but there is so much tremendous literature being written today that you could read a book every day for years and have your mind and heart fairly blown.

Another general mistake that writers make is to rush the work. Don’t send out first drafts or second. Don’t query or pitch agents if you haven’t a fully polished piece to send. Don’t self-publish it because you received a few rejections (self publish because you love marketing and want to do that work on your own).

I wrestle with this impulse myself and understand it completely. It comes from doubt and wanting to be reassured that our work is good enough. What you need to do is act as though you ARE good enough. Because you have the potential to be when you do all of the work that is required.

Your task is to go through these steps, again and again. Develop your characters. Know not just what the story is about on its surface, but what it says about the human condition. Write the book. Put it aside for awhile knowing that it will get better as your skills get better. Read other books. Take classes. Talk with other writers. Most of all, though, do the work.  

The writing, the thinking, the wrestling, the deleting, the reading out loud, the loving that this work takes. It’s not a race, and in the end, the most important source of approval and encouragement is your own self. So start giving yourself that kind of attention now, and let all of the useless worry go.

MWW: Your intensive session is divided into sections, from getting the first 500 words right, to querying. What stage should a writer be in to benefit most from your class? Specifically, who is your ideal attendee for this session?

MB: I have written nonfiction for adults and middle grade readers, picture books, and young adult novels. I am a writer’s writer and love all forms of writing and reading. The first 500 words of ANY book (or the entirety of a picture book) absolutely must sing in order to catch the attention of an agent. What you will learn in working on your first 500 words is stuff you can apply to the rest of your project. Having a great opening is necessary, but having a great book as a whole is necessary to all of the rest of the steps of the publishing process.

You can get a lot of excitement and momentum from your opening, but you can never be certain you have the write one until you also have the ending of your book written. The opening is a promise that the ending pays off. Ideally, people will have that first draft and can get a charge for revising with the things we’ll be talking about with openings. But it’s not necessary. With writing, you’ll learn what you are ready to learn when you hear it. And who really knows when that is? That’s part of the magic of taking classes and attending conferences. You’re sticking your shovel in the soil, and the gems appear as if by magic–but it’s really because you’ve readied yourself to receive them.

Querying an agent (my bias is that you do this and not an editor) is an important part of the process. But you don’t have to be at that stage to benefit from knowing how to query.

A query will be a sort of bouillon cube of your story: a condensed version of it that conveys its potential and essential flavors. We don’t always know this about our stories when we are drafting them, but it sure helps when we do. You can choose your images and details with more certainty when you know what you’re about.

Again, I am into the fundamentals: the language, the human elements. We build up from here until we have a hook crafted. You can do it the other way–start with a hook and hang things on it. But I think in general what I say will have more appeal to people who are interested in a classic, literary approach. I’d rather a novel that is deep and enduring than one with a great hook and not much beyond that.

MWW: Given that you seem to have had numerous types of work in publishing, do you have any advice for those want to make a career in the writing field, in addition to novel writing?

MB: People will always need good writing. Unfortunately, many people confuse the ability to type with the ability to write. We are also in an era where otherwise sane people have bought into the “writing for exposure” economy. I like to remind people that exposure is another word for freezing to death or illegally flashing your naughty bits. One leads to the grave and the other to jail. Neither should be a life goal.

Study it and get good. Many people are intimidated by grammar or profess its unimportance. You don’t hear a lot of professional athletes whining about how hard the rules of the game are. If you want to play with the best, learn the rules. Then go ahead and break them with purpose and style (more Michael Jordan than Tom Brady). Likewise, know books. Spend time in bookstores and libraries and read what is being published today in addition to what has endured. Most writers are readers, and the ones who aren’t make me scratch my head a bit.

Second, value the craft. This means charge a living wage for it. Everyone who works for free or for inappropriately low wages makes it harder for the rest of us.

Third, create your own opportunities. If you have a day job, find a way to make writing part of that job. Companies have blogs and twitter accounts and tumblrs and all of the rest; if you can make doing that something that helps earn your paycheck, you’re on your way.

MWW:  In trying to get to know you a bit better, what is a surprising or unique aspect of who you are, either personal- or business-wise, something that would serve as an icebreaker if we were to meet?

MB: Know this! I am not judging your grammar. Yes, I did found National Grammar Day, but that was for fun and for the high school students I was teaching at the time, and unless you have specifically asked me to look at the grammar of something and are paying me to do so, that part of my brain is turned off and I am focused on getting to know you-where you’re from, what you love to read, whether you’re a dog person or a cat person, whether you prefer Twizzlers* or Red Vines, and whether you would take a one-way trip to Mars if you were offered the chance. There is so much we have to talk about! And I can’t wait to meet you.

* The Devil

MWW: Would you like to add anything else?  Please let us know some places to connect online. Twitter handle? FB address? Website? Other?

MB: http://twitter.com/mbrockenbrough

http://facebook.com/marthabrockenbroughbooks

http://marthabrockenbrough.com

REGISTER TODAY!