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!

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

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Q&A with Julie Hyzy

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

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

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

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

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

*  *  *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MWW: What project are you working on currently?

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

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

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

MWW: Thank you, Julie!

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Award-winning Michael Shelden to teach Writing the Biography

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

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

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

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

Young Titan has garnered rave reviews from numerous sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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