A Workshop, A Manuscript, A Book

Or Why Attending a Writers Conference Can Help Your Career….

Or How I Became One of the First MWW Success Stories ….

By Jama Kehoe Bigger

I never pitched an agent. I never wrote a proposal. I never wrote a query. I never mailed the manuscript to the publisher. I never submitted any sample writing, any biography, any synopsis.

I never followed the professional protocols for turning a manuscript into a book.

And yet, one day I received a phone call from an editor at Fleming H. Revell publishers. An editor I had never met. A publishing house I had never submitted to.

“I love the first chapter and the chapter The Date, and we want to publish your manuscript,” he said.*

What? My manuscript? My untitled manuscript?

Not your typical path to publication.

But a pathway made possible because of my trips through Midwest Writers Workshop.

It was 1976 and I was a 20-year-old college student with a desire to write and an idea for a book, an English major at Ball State University. That summer, an (accidental?) bumping into a friend-of-a-friend, a casual conversation about writing, a mention of a writers’ conference (in my very city, at my very university), a leap of faith, a saying “yes” to a new adventure, all led to me sitting in a classroom in Ball State’s Carmichael Hall, listening to author and humorist Tom Mullen talk about writing for the inspirational marketplace.

I had found a mentor.

Life-changing. That’s what Midwest Writers was.

That class, that creative environment, that support and encouragement from faculty and committee and participants was like water and sunlight and nourishment. It made me grow.

I was hooked on the importance of a writers’ conference, the value of Midwest Writers Workshop.  For the next few years, I registered and signed up for classes in nonfiction and poetry. I learned to be a better writer, listening, asking questions, taking notes. I kept growing.

I found writer-friends. And become part of the MWW community.

Then in 1979, the inspirational writing class I attended was taught by Floyd Thatcher, an editor with Word Publishing. He was friendly (just like Tom and all MWW faculty seemed to be!), offered keen advice on tightening my writing, and believed in my story.

Very rough first draft, which went on and on and on for pages before the "story" (action) began.

Very rough first draft, which went on and on and on for pages before the “story” (action) began.

Eventually, after rewrites and rewrites, I summoned enough courage to mail my (unnamed) manuscript to him. When he called and said, “I was moved by your story, but it’s not quite what our company publishes,” I almost dropped the phone. Until I heard his next sentence. “But I hope you don’t mind, I mailed your manuscript to another editor I know.”  Then I did drop the phone.

A few weeks later, Victor Oliver, editor at Fleming H. Revell, called.

I had found an editor.

And I had found a publisher.

And I became not just a writer, but an author.

This path of mine to publication, this walkway was created with stone after stone.  Courage. Registering for the workshop. Courage. Asking for advice. Courage. Revising editing improving. Learning. Courage. Sending out my words. Courage and hope. My story.

The Dive 2

Final (and published) revision of Chapter 1

Attending MWW was my right first step out of the sometimes secluded life of writing and into a community that was chock full of resources, connections, inspiration. And above all, friendships.

Then Came a Miracle1I could go on and on about the impact Midwest Writers had on me every year that I attended. After my book was published, I became a presenter, then a committee member, and then director. In some capacity, I’ve been part of MWW for 37 of its 40 years.  MWW is part of who I am. And I am grateful.

What will your Midwest Writers story be?

(In the spirit of Literary Citizenshipget the book, read the book, review the book.)

* This call came two weeks before I got married. It was a very good summer!

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MWW Alumni News

Bragging a bit!

From Kate SeRineI attended the 2010 Midwest Writers Workshop, courtesy of the Zilpha Danner Memorial Scholarship. While there, I learned some great information and made my first pitch to an editor. The editor requested my manuscript, and although she eventually passed on the manuscript, the experience was invaluable in boosting my confidence! Feeling pretty good about how things were going, I entered the manuscript in the Finally a Bride Contest (sponsored by the Oklahoma chapter of Romance Writers of America) and ended up being a finalist and placing 2nd. In addition, the editor who was a final judge requested my manuscript and (several months later!) made an offer.

I’m happy to announce that my novel, Red (Book 1 of my Transplanted Tales series), was sold in a three-book deal to Alicia Condon at Kensington Books and will be released in August 2012 as part of their new digital-first imprint, eKensington. (And I’m all register to come in July!

From Lori Lowe

I found the Midwest Writers Workshop team to be encouraging and welcoming. While I’ve attended larger writing conferences, MWW is the one I have found most helpful and to which I have returned. I benefited from the 2010 conference by meeting the agent I later signed with and by interacting with and learning from respected faculty. I also made helpful connections and was honored with a Manny Award. Finally, I have made friends with other writers on the publishing journey, and that has made my life richer.

My marriage book was published in late 2011. First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage (available in print and e-book) is an inspirational book with real-life stories of finding true marriage after overcoming adversity. Or check my blog.

From Elaine L. Orr

The second book of my Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series (electronic and paperback), Rekindling Motives, was released last year. (Appraisal for Murder is the-first in the series.) Lightening struck when I heard Mike Lawson (during last year’s Intensive Session) describe how to put more punch into an opening paragraph of a novel, and I rewrote the first paragraph of my four-book mystery series.  A number of people have said the opening really drew them into the book.

Success story: Veronica Roth

MWW success story!

During our 2009 MWW, agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of the Nancy Coffey Literary Agency met with workshop participants for pitch sessions and signed three authors as clients. In fact, Joanne now represents MWW attendee Veronica Roth who writes YA and has contracted a 3-book deal with Harper Collins Children’s books.

Veronica’s first book, Divergent, has been on the New York Times Bestseller List at #6 for three weeks!

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Alumni News

Toni Cantrell‘s book, The Gazebo, was released April 2011 from Belfire Press. Toni has three other novels in print, Strangers and Pilgrims and If Ever That Time Come with Author House and Absentminded by Voni Ryan (co-author Violet Ryan) also from Belfire Press. Another co-authored novel with Bea Simmons was published in July, 2011, and Voni Ryan’s collection of short stories in December, 2011. This prolific author credits much of her confidence and success to attending the annual Midwest Writers Workshop for the past several years.

Michael Ehret is now editor-in-chief of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild in Colorado Springs, CO. He is also a twice-monthly blogger with Novel Journey and the ezine editor for the American Christian Fiction Writers.

Lori Lowe has signed a contract with agent Dr. Uwe Stender, whom she met for a pitch session during the 2010 MWW. He is now representing her nonfiction book.

Tricia Fields also attended Midwest Writers Workshop in 2010 and in September won the Tony Hillerman best first mystery award for her book, The Territory.

Maurice Broaddus, a MWW 1993 alum, had his debut novel, King Maker, released last fall from Angry Robot/Random House, the first of an urban fantasy trilogy set in Indianapolis. He has also founded an annual conference that discusses spirituality and genre fiction. He edits a now annual anthology called Dark Faith (Apex Books) and his fiction has appeared in over two dozen markets. “I just wanted to let you know that one of your local alumna is doing pretty well,” he says.

MWW success stories: Dan Johnson and Lonnie Whitaker

We’re always pleased to pass along the good news of publishing successes from our MWW participants.

DE JohnsonDan Johnson, Schoolcraft, MI (2006 MWW alum), is author of The Detroit Electric Scheme (St. Martin’s Minotaur Books, September 2010) dejohnsonauthor.com. Dan is also our 2010  Friday luncheon speaker, “How I Got Here from There.”

Q: How did you discover MWW and how did it help your writing career?
I found information on the MWW on the internet and attended in 2006. It was the most instructive conference I’ve been to, before or since. I’ve been surprised to find that very few conferences give you the “nuts and bolts” knowledge that new writers need.

Q: Please condense the overall story of your book.
1910 Detroit: Will Anderson, heir to America’s largest electric automobile manufacturer, has been framed for murder. Worse, the woman he loves is in terrible danger, and Will knows it’s his fault. He follows her through the gutters of Detroit, trying to save her and find the killer at the same time. As the evidence mounts, Will gets closer and closer to the truth-a secret that could cost Will not only his life, but also the lives of the people he loves most.

“The surprise ending leaves you gasping and shaking your head at Johnson’s masterful plotting and the menacing tension that forces otherwise good characters to behave despicably. Every bit as powerful as Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley series, this gem of a debut showcases an author to watch very closely.” –Booklist (Starred review)

Q: What is the best advice on writing you’ve ever received?
“Let your characters boss you around.” I’ve heard versions of this advice in various books and classes, but it still amazes me how my characters hijack my story if I let them. When I don’t let them, they fight back. And they always win.

Q: Is there something else people might find interesting about your journey to publication?
My journey to publication was humbling, surprising, and ultimately thrilling. I have a good story to tell about the tenuous thread that leads to being published, and how maximizing your opportunities is essential.

Lonnie Whitaker, High Ridge, MO (2001 MWW alum), is author of Geese to a Poor Market, (High Hill Press, released summer2010).

Q: How did you end up coming from Missouri to attend MWW and how did it help your career?
In early 2001, I sold a 500-word story (my first) to a regional magazine and the process hooked me–I wanted to learn the tricks I imagined my journalism friends knew.  I started searching online for a workshop and found MWW.  It’s the same distance from St. Louis to Kansas City as it is to Indianapolis, so the distance didn’t seem too bad.  I spoke with Jama and signed up.  The lineup in 2001 was terrific. I signed up for a critique session and drew Karl Largent.  He told me that writers write, but authors get published, and that I was an author.  At the end of the session he challenged me. “You’ve got the ability–the question is what are you going to do with it?”  That 30-minute session was a turning point.  As the cliché goes:  when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Q: What is the overall story of your book?
In 1955 Rita Sanders leaves a cheating husband and returns to her childhood home in the Missouri Ozarks.  She lands a job at a honky-tonk on the outskirts of a bible-belt village owned by a retired navy petty officer, and her religious mother disapproves. With the reappearance of her estranged husband, the prodigal daughter discovers there is more than one snake in the garden, as her husband and mother conspire against her for custody of her son.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve received to help your writing career?
“Never have your protagonist running quickly when he could be sprinting.”  Again, Karl Largent at MWW.  That became my starting point for learning the craft of commercial fiction and tight writing.  As a reminder, my business card has a quote from Mark Twain: “When you catch an adjective–kill it.”

Q: Did you learn anything interesting on this journey to publication?
I had to learn how to make moonshine to write one of the chapters. Just because I grew up in the Ozarks doesn’t mean that’s one of my talents.