Brown Karma

Meet Karma Brown, popular Women’s Fiction author

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

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

*  *  *

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mac or PC?

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

Plotter or Pantser?

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

Early bird or night owl?

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

Coffee or tea?

*See above!

***

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

stanley_kelly_high res

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.

*  *  *

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.

Reichert Amy

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.

 *  *  *

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.
Clemens

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.

*  *  *
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.
larrydsweazy68851

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
Malone Jen

Q&A with Jen Malone

NEW for MWW16 — sessions on writing for the middle grade reader! And we’re pleased to welcome author Jen Malone.

Malone JenJen Malone writes sweet and funny books about tweens and teens for readers of all ages. Her middle grade titles are with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin and Penguin Random House and include At Your Service, the You’re Invited series (co-written with Gail Nall), and The Sleepover. Her young adult titles (with HarperCollins/ HarperTeen) include Map to the Stars and Wanderlost. Jen’s a former Hollywood movie marketing executive who runs critique group seminars through Inkedvoices.com and freelance edits for a host of kidlit and romance authors. You can find more about her and her titles at jenmalonewrites.com. (Twitter: @jenmalonewrites / Facebook: jmalone)

Jen will teach a Part I Intensive Session (Thursday, July 21) called: OMG, Like, Whatevs: Writing For Tweens 

This session tackles the ins and outs of writing for the tween market including how to nail that hard-to-get tween voice, the pros and cons of using slang, and what “content” does and doesn’t fly with this age group. Jen is the author of six novels aimed at the upper middle grade market under Simon & Schuster’s Aladdin M!X imprint, and her favorite comment from tween readers is, “Your characters really act like my friends and me!” In this seminar we’ll do an in-depth examination of issues relevant and appropriate to this age group (as told by tweens themselves), and discuss common considerations facing authors writing for tweens. Lastly, we’ll discuss the publishers and imprints dominating this space and what types of books they’re on the hunt for at the moment.

MWW committee member Cathy Shouse interviewed Jen about her writing and what she will present at MWW16.

MWW: At MWW, you’ll teach an intensive on writing for Middle Grade but you also write YA. Will your intensive be beneficial to writers of both, to an extent? I know all types of writing have some commonalities.

JM: I definitely plan for it to be and I certainly hope it will! The focus of the intensive is on understanding the middle grade kid before attempting to write for him or her: what’s important at this age, what’s not, what details can you include to make your story ring authentic to the reader in this age group, what things should you leave out, how much do you need to be aware of/include pop culture references, slang, etc. The blueprint for how to do that research and the areas to pay particular attention to can be applied to any category (PB, MG, YA and adult), so I’d like to think anyone would be able to find something of value.

MWW: If someone comes to your intensive, what can they expect as far as format, in-class writing, read-aloud, etc.?

JM: The feedback comments from past conferences I value most are where people describe my teaching style as “easygoing and approachable.” In my marketing workshops I offer the mantra “share, don’t sell,” meaning “make it about the other person and what value they’ll gain from reading your book/booking you for a festival/having you in to their bookstore to do a signing, etc” and I would say the same applies to the intensive I have planned. “Share, don’t preach” is my teaching philosophy and I hope everyone who wants to will feel encouraged to join into a discussion on our topic, with me acting as a facilitator to keep us on point. But part of the time will be a more structured Powerpoint presentation with tons of hilarious videos to demonstrate my talking points. And there will be writing time and read-aloud time as well. Oh, and also a cute hedgehog picture or two, likely. Basically, we’re going for the full gamut!

MWW: Since we’re catching up with you on your way to RT (the Romantic Times convention in Vegas), how about a thumbnail sketch of your participation there, in addition to signing? I saw “Pitch Wars Road Show” and “You’re Never Too old for Y.A.” as topics. How will those work?

JM: The one I’m most excited for is a panel with two other Hollywood execs (in my pre-author life I was a movie marketing exec) about applying strategies we learned in movie marketing to outside-the-box book marketing. I’ll be presenting a version of this workshop at MMW! The Pitch Wars session will include aspiring authors pitching their book concepts to published authors in order to collect feedback and encouragement, and You’re Never Too Old for YA is a fun “hang-out” session with a dozen YA authors to celebrate readers of all ages, in recognition of the research that shows more than 80% of YA readers are over the age of 35!

MWW: From your website, I noticed that you came to writing after another career in marketing and travel. What made you decide to take up writing and what has your journey to publication been like?

JM: I did. I was in charge of New England publicity and promotion for 20th Century Fox and for Miramax Films, working through a PR firm in Boston. Part of my job was sitting through press screenings of movies, to try to gauge what critical reaction to that film might be, so I was literally paid to watch movies during the work day. Not a bad gig! It ended up being an invaluable way to absorb story plot and pacing through osmosis, even though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, nor did I ever have plans to be an author! I started writing in 2012, when my youngest started kindergarten and was learning to read. I thought it would be fun to write a little story about her, that she could read to me at bedtime. It was like getting hooked on a drug from the first time — I started and couldn’t stop! I kept going until I looked up a month later and said, “Um, I think I just wrote a book.” The next thought was “Now what?” Luckily, the first person I shared it with pointed me straight to a writer’s conference, because I had never even heard the words “query letter”! “They” (whoever they are) say to embrace the unexpected, and I’m certainly glad I did!

MWW: Several of your books have themes centered around travel. Wanderlost involves a European bus tour and Map to the Stars is centered around a teen movie idol’s European promotional tour. Has that helped your career, having connections in your books?

JM: If I’m not having fun writing it, a reader won’t have fun reading it, so it makes sense to me that I should write about the things I love most… and topping that list is travel! I saved up for years so that I could spend the year after college backpacking around the world. I hit 45 countries and it was the single biggest influence on who I am as a person now. Now I have young kids and a husband with a fixed-in-place job and a mortgage and all that other stuff that gets in the way of wanderlust, so I have to satisfy my itch by writing about some of my favorite spots on the planet. Whereas MG characters are often trying to figure out how they fit in with their very specific groups (school, friendship circle, etc), YA characters’ focus is growing broader and they’re often looking beyond the “here and now” to figure out where they fit into the world at large. So dropping teen characters out there into that big, crazy world is really just pushing that theme and it’s something I love exploring. As for building a brand around travel romances and how that’s helped my career, I think it’s probably still too early in said career to comment on that one, but here’s hoping it works for readers, because my 2017 YA with HarperTeen is also a travel romance (via sailboat, along the coast of Oregon and California) and I love armchair traveling as I write them. Hopefully readers feel the same as they read!

MWW: You’ll also speak at MWW on marketing your books. In promoting your books, I see you visit a lot of Girl Scout organizations. Were you a Girl Scout? 🙂

JM: I was (and my mom was my troop leader) and I loved it, but we weren’t exactly the most dedicated troop. I have a rather sad collection of badges and some memories of begging my dad to take my cookie order form to work with him so I wouldn’t have to go door-to-door!

MWW: What is the biggest mistake you see authors make when it comes to marketing?

JM: I have two, both of which I am sometimes guilty of as well!

The first is overestimating the general public’s interest and enthusiasm level (even within the book community) when it comes to book promotions and contests. Does someone have to follow ten steps to enter your contest, or cut and paste complicated links into Rafflecopter to demonstrate they’ve tweeted about it, or email you a picture of a receipt as proof of purchase? Sadly, nine of ten people are not going to take the time to do those things, when, for them, it’s “low stakes.” (Just like you probably don’t take the time to fill out the survey on your receipt from Michael’s/The Gap/The Olive Garden/etc for your chance to win a gift card.) Time is a hugely valuable commodity to people and anything requiring significant effort usually gets passed by, especially when there are so many other promotions competing for attention.

The second is front-loading your time and energy on a promotion, without thinking about the end result of an effort. If you spend weeks designing a teacher guide for your book, but haven’t given any thought to how/where/when you’ll get it in the hands of teachers, that’s probably not the best use of your time. Just sticking it up on your website and hoping it will be magically discovered will probably leave you disappointed in the outcome. Same with ordering thousands of postcards (or any other type of swag) without any idea of how or where you’ll use them to help promote your book… I’m a big advocate for marketer “smaller but smarter.”

 

jama

Our Secret Weapon…

You know how most writers are trying to win the attention of agents? Those of us who are on the MWW planning committee are writers in a very unusual position: We have to turn down agents who want to be on the faculty of our conference.

(REGISTER FOR MWW 2016 WHILE THERE ARE STILL SPOTS)

Maybe they just have always wanted to come to Muncie.

Maybe it’s that agents have discovered some pretty amazing writers at our conference (cough…cough…Veronica…Roth…cough).

We’ve had many agents tell them that we are their favorite conference. The thing is, we work them like dogs. They lead sessions, take pitches, give speeches, and review manuscripts. Still, they want to come back.

“Maybe next year,” we tell them.

Each year we get writers from all over the United States and sometimes from other countries. Folks travel for an entire day to get to our conference in Muncie.

Sometimes we scratch our heads and wonder why folks love the conference so much. Jama-Kelsey-Jane-mww15

(Jama on the bottom right in the pimp hat. That’s a sentence I never thought I would write!)

But really, we know why. We have a secret weapon. We call her Jama.

Jama is the executive director of MWW and the head cheerleader for every writer who attends. Her love, compassion, and enthusiasm for writers and writing is contagious.

Jama recently shared her enthusiasm for MWW on her own blog. She writes:

I’ve been connected to MWW since my sophomore year of college and now I’m a granny, so basically about 67% of my life. {Don’t let your brain explode trying to do the math, let’s just say that I’m no longer middle-aged.} First, I attended as a participant, then after my MWW-impacted manuscript was accepted for publication, I came on board as a committee member. Eventually, I became the director.

MWW set a torch in my chest for helping other writers turn their dreams into reality. That fire has burned in me for {redacted} years. It’s like a ministry for me. “Amen!” “Let’s make this happen!” I proclaim.

From the very beginning of my time on the committee, I’ve been called to cheer. And to serve.

From my way-back years to my now-year, I serve writers. Fiction writers, nonfiction writers, poets, and all those who are struggling to know what they’re writing. I serve writers who write mystery stuff, romantic stuff, inspirational stuff, children’s stuff, blog stuff, or scary stuff I’m too sensitive to read … and I even serve those who write their stuff on a Mac. Doesn’t matter to me. I’ll serve ‘em all. I love ‘em all.

I love so many of these MWW people more than I love a big ol’ hunk of chocolate. I love writers in all their diversity. I love that the common bond for all of us truly is that we want to be writers who make an impact.

Read the rest on Jama’s Happy Day Moment blog.

~ Kelsey

 

Poetry reading April 6 small

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
registernow

MWW16 Registration Now Open!

Room to grow!

If you’ve been part of Midwest Writers Workshop in recent years, you know all about our growing pains. With our ever-surging enrollment we’ve often had to cap registration early, shoehorn extra chairs into classrooms, and designate quiet corners in noisy spaces for writers’ one-on-one appointments with editors and agents.

So, this year we’re taking a giant leap to the next level where the operative words are “NEW” and “MORE.” Let’s start with the “NEW” ….

LA Pittenger SCLA Pittenger loungeOur NEW workshop home is the L.A. Pittenger Student Center on the campus of Ball State University. The familiar adage “location, location, location” certainly fits this sprawling facility with its extra parking slots, classrooms, Starbucks, food court, lounge areas, and—would you believe—a bowling alley! It also puts us in close proximity to what the locals call “The Village,” a casual cluster of restaurants and watering holes within steps of the Student Center. Writers can socialize as much or as little as they choose. The adjoining campus (typically quiet in July) is a great place to wander, soak up the sun, or check out an exhibit at the Owsley Art Museum or a program at the new planetarium (both free!).

 

Now for the “MORE” ….

The additional space is enabling us to accommodate MORE writers, faculty, editors, agents, and workshops. We have the largest faculty we’ve ever had: two faculty for middle grade (NEW), two faculty for women’s fiction (NEW), four faculty for mystery, three for young adult, up and coming star of writing the online essay; PLUS nonfiction, poetry, inspirational; PLUS Scrivener, social media tutoring, PLUS six agents and two editors. We’ve put together a schedule that balances keynote talks on both the craft and business of writing, hands-on learning, panel discussions, and opportunities for manuscript evaluations, query letter critiques, professional head shots, and tax/business consultations. We’re now able to offer 10 Part I intensive sessions and 45+ sessions for Part II on Friday and Saturday. We’ve made it extremely tough to decide which ones to attend!

Amid all these changes, one thing will remain constant: Hoosier hospitality. Our planning team works hard to create the kind of friendly environment that gives new and veteran writers room to grow. Whether you’re a “regular” who makes Midwest Writers Workshop an annual event, or a first-timer who has decided—like us—to take a giant leap this year to the next level, we look forward to welcoming you on July 21!

Register today!


Registration powered by RegOnline


magnet image

The Great #MWWmagnet contest

MWW magnet for website 960x450

Oh the plans we are making for #MWW16. It is going to be amazing! We’ve been busy growing the number of opportunities you all will be able to take advantage of this summer.

To celebrate our excitement, we are hosting a contest. Participate and you could win $50 off your registration for our annual conference on July 21-23, 2016.

Here’s how to play:

  1. Buy one of our MWW word clusters for $4.
  2. Make a creative phrase, sentence, poem, or paragraph that makes our team of judges laugh or cry or think or jealous of your creativity.
  3. Take a photo of your creation and share it on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook using the hashtag #MWWmagnets
  4. Our judges will choose a winner on February 6th (because that’s my birthday. Why not celebrate, by giving someone $50 off?!)

Here’s how to order:


To give you an idea of what is possible, I challenged myself to use every word. The picture of my word Frankenstein’s word monster is below, and here’s the text with added punctuation:

My happy tribe,

Alone? Help?

I reject, destroy despair. Leave me!

You will…

…celebrate stink.
…write synopsis.
…query agent, editor.
…publish!
…whine, weep, wine.

Hope won’t want to need talent, except
MWW said, “Hate not worth-while work!

– Love me (Kelsey Timmerman)

Think you can do better? Prove it!

IMG_2859