Q&A with Kelly O’Dell Stanley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Netflix or Prime or???

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

Coffee or tea?

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

E-books or paper?

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

MAC or PC?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Macbook is my life.

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A with poet Liz Whiteacre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MWW: What are you working on now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

*  *  *

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!