5 tips for pitching to agents: Jessica Sinsheimer

Jessica Sinsheimer, with Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, shares 5 tips for meeting agents.

SinsheimerJessica Sinsheimer has been reading and campaigning for her favorite queries since 2004. Now an agent at the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, she’s known for #MSWL, ManuscriptWishList.com, #PubTalkTV-and for drinking far too much tea. Always on the lookout for new writers, she is most excited about finding picture books, YA, MG, upmarket genre fiction (especially women’s fiction, romance, and erotica, as well as thrillers and mysteries) and-on the nonfiction side-psychology, parenting, self-help, cookbooks, memoirs, and works that speak to life in the twenty-first century. She especially likes highbrow sentences with lowbrow content, smart/nerdy protagonists, vivid descriptions of food, picture books with non-human characters, and justified acts of bravery. You can follow her on Twitter at @JSinsheim.

Jessica had a great time as a member of our 2011 faculty and said, “I’ll return any time!” So, welcome back, Jessica, to MWW17!  We asked her for tips for pitching to her . (Hint: She said the tips apply to all agents.)

5 Tips: 

Remember, agents are not robots.

I always appreciate when people acknowledge that I’m a person. Usually an undercaffeinated person who’s happy to meet lovely writing people, but a person, nonetheless, and an introvert at that. A simple “Hi, how are you? Hey, you’ve got five cups of tea there–my daughter loves English Breakfast” will go a long way toward making me like you and set you apart from the last meeting. It takes about 20 seconds and keeps me comfortable, present, and open to your work. Keep in mind that I interact with thousands of writers a year. I want each interaction to be as human, pleasant, and present as possible.

 

Think conversation, not monologue. 

Here are the things I’m most likely to ask, so you can prepare: 1) Where did you get the idea? 2) What experience do you have with the topic? 3) Who is the ideal reader for your book? 4) How is this different from other works in your genre? 5) What are your favorite books? 6) What do you do in your spare time?

 

Do your homework.

Research, research, research. It will not only ensure that you’re prepared, but calm your fears of awkward silence. Find out not only what’s on my  ManuscriptWishList.com  profile and #MSWL feed, but also some of my recent projects, especially the ones similar to yours. Read one, if you can–or, if you must, 🙂 read the free samples online. Find interviews I’ve done (just Google “Jessica Sinsheimer interview”). Visit the agency website. And knowing things like my favorite caffeinated beverage (coffee, tea, or coffee in tea–thank you, dirty chai latte), weekend activity (yoga, kayaking, and reading), and fluffy animal (I’m partial to orange cats and samoyeds) can help, too. These are all things you can use to fill any silence, so you don’t have to worry.

 

The agent and writer can be friends. 

Remember that we want to help you. Agents need writers, too. Don’t go in feeling like you’re pitching investors. Instead, think of it as a conversation about great books with a friend–it just happens to be your book, and an agent.

 

Be calm and pitch on.

Don’t be nervous. I know it’s scary, but I’m seriously 5’2″ and like to keep people around me feeling good. You can listen to the   Manuscript Academy podcast   to hear how I interact with writers and agents–that’s on iTunes and Soundcloud, and totally free. You’ll probably be less scared when you hear how peppy I am. If you want to practice, you can get plenty of one-on-one feedback on your query and first page with the new Manuscript Academy Ten Minutes With An Expert program–starting April 12, you can have ten-minute conversations one-on-one with agents and editors from home. See ManuscriptAcademy.com/ten

*** Exciting news! 

Jessica is bringing her popular the  PubTalk TV  to MWW17. On Saturday, July 22, 2017, from 3:45-4:45, she’s live streaming a session on-site with Summer Heacock (MWW planning member extraordinaire and debut author of The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky), Roseanne Wells (agent with the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency), and Monica Odom (agent with Bradford Literary Agency).

Book Review of NATHAN’S RUN by John Gilstrap

[This post is the eighth in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

“That’s why I’m gonna keep running.” A review of Nathan’s Run by John Gilstrap

Nathan’s Run
Author: John Gilstrap
Publisher: Harper Collins
Copyright 1996 by John Gilstrap
ISBN: 0060173858
Formant: Ebook
​Genre: Thriller

Nathan Bailey wants somebody that he can trust.  By the time he is twelve he has been orphaned and left in the care of an abusive uncle, who, after learning that he won’t be able to get his hands on Nathan’s inheritance, casts his nephew into the Kafka-esque world of the juvenile justice system. Within the walls of the Juvenile Detention Center’s ‘Crisis Unit’  Nathan kills a guard in self-defense, and, seeing no better option, runs.  He gets his bearings while hiding out in a house belonging to a family that is away from home.

The severe reality of his situation dawns on Nathan  when he hears grown-ups passing judgement on him, first on cable news, and then on a Nationally syndicated radio show hosted by a woman befittingly known as “The Bitch.” The youngster becomes the most famous fugitive in the country when he calls in to the radio program and iterates his side of the story.  Knowing that he can’t stay put forever, Nathan steals a car and keeps running.  The Nation is divided, half believe that Nathan is a cold-blooded killer, and half believe he is a victim of circumstance. The pressure is on for both Nathan (who is running towards the Canadian Border for his life) and for the police force trying to capture him (with their reputation on the line.)

The perspective of “Nathan’s Run” alternates between the young fugitive and the detective in charge of finding him, Warren Michaels, whose own tragic past makes the case difficult and personal.  Michaels is torn between his belief in Nathan’s innocence and his duty to apprehend him.

“Nathan’s Run” was the first of many bestsellers by Author John Gilstrap, whose most recent publication is “Final Target (A Jonathan Grave Thriller)” which is the ninth book in the Jonathan Grave series.  Through a swift high-stakes plot, sparse fiery prose, and emotionally compelling characterization, Gilstrap has created a page-turner with a critical eye on the harsh, politicized treatment of criminals, especially young ones. Readers will find themselves emotionally invested: feeling the triumph of Nathan’s successes and cringing with defeat at each of his blunders,  hoping for a happy ending that seems more and more unlikely and far away.

By Charlie Cain

Book Review of JUST FALL by Nina Sadowsky

[This post is the seventh in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

Just Fall: A Psychological Romance by Nina Sadowsky

Murder, missing children, and a mystery of hidden pasts, Nina Sadowsky’s debut novel Just Fall will leave you breathless and asking for more.

When Ellie vowed on the night of her wedding “till death do us part” she probably assumed this would be a concern for later down the road, when her and her too good to be true husband, Rob, were both grey and old and the many experiences of the world behind them. What she never expected was for it to be the death of a strange man (by her hand at that) that would wrench their lives in different directions, sending them down a convoluted path of deceit, trickery, and a violence history both wish would remain rooted firmly in the past.

As Ellie learns about Rob’s dark past she is placed in a terrible situation where it seems there are no good choices left for her to make. In order to save her own life and the life of the man she loves, Ellie will have to cross lines she never dared thought were worth crossing, and question how far she is willing to go in order to survive. Will she kill for the man she proclaimed to love, and if she does, what kind of person will she be when all of this is over?

Mysteries of the past and present unfold, submerging Ellie in a twisted plot of murder, kidnapped children, and drug trade. The only way out is to do exactly as instructed, but before she can make it out alive she’ll have to ask herself the hardest question of all, can she really trust the man who’s criminal past has led her down this dangerous path? At every turn Ellie and Rob must question the motivations behind their own actions, as they are forced to see not just the darkness in their loved one’s past, but finally face the darkness in their own hearts that they’ve been avoiding for so long.

Nina Sadowsky’s debut novel Just Fall, takes the reader through a roller coaster of emotions, concern, desire and doubt, distrust and the ever present hope that there is some good reason behind the character’s heinous actions. The chapters are divided into Now and Then moments, giving the reader minute glimpses into the newlywed’s complicated pasts as the story of the present progresses ever forward. These small hints of painful history keep the reader eager for the next glimpse, and slowly help to unfold the answers to the many questions this twisted tale dares you to ask.

Sadowsky’s style of 3rd person narrative stems from her background as a screenwriter, providing the reader with a unique experience as she switches between a 3rd person point of view with insight into Ellie and Rob’s inner thoughts as well as the occasional, separate, impartial narrator that has the feel of an outsider looking in, trying to make sense of what they are seeing, much like how a movie goer may feel when seeing a feature film in theaters for the first time. This switching between the characters’ POV and the impartial narrator gives an extra level of complexity to the psychological evaluations of the characters actions, allowing us to see both the inner thoughts and reasoning of the characters from their own minds, as well as the questions an outsider without the knowledge of another’s thoughts might ask as they try to make sense of the motivations  behind the characters’ actions.

While the emphasis of Ellie’s physical appearance (as well as her evaluations of other characters’ physical attributes) throughout the book seems a bit excessive it is exactly what I would expect from a character who’s past has left her with crippling insecurity and feelings of being unworthy of other’s attention, let alone affections. Rob on the other hand is a surprisingly likable despite his many faults and wrong doings, and though he is far from mentally stable he exhibits one of the most important key traits in the recovery of any person who has suffered trauma or abuse, the desire and true motivation to change for the better. As we learn more about Rob’s dangerous and terrible past we can see over time how he has changed, both his decent into darkness as well as his dissatisfaction with the person he has become and his desperate, struggling attempts to change.

The one disappointing aspect of this book is that the ending was rather abrupt, having the feel of a thriller or action movie climax, which didn’t have quite achieve the same affect in book format. The turning point seemed to come on a bit sudden, especially after such a carefully planned out, slow release of information, but the suspense and gradual build up of knowledge throughout the novel more than makes up for the abruptness of the end. Overall, Just Fall, is a fascinating and gripping read, with complexity of character to capture the reader’s attention and enough mystery to keep you eager to learn more.

With a sharp attention to psychology and an accurate portrayal of motivations, Sadowsky wonderfully captured a tantalizing, and yet reasonably realistic representation of the horrors and aftermath of a traumatic and difficult life without overly romanticizing or dramatizing too much the horrors the characters lived through. Just Fall will have you sitting on the edge of your seat, ravenous for the next secret to be revealed. As a first novel and psychological thriller/romance, I’d say Just Fall is a great success.

Update July 14, 2017: If you’d like to read my interview with Nina Sadowsky you can find it here.

By Tynan Drake

Book Review: THE DRUMMOND GIRLS by Mardi Jo Link

[This post is the sixth in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

The Drummond Girls: A Review With Utmost Respect For The Women and Their Stories

Mardi Jo Link’s memoir, The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance, is a textbook example of why it is difficult to maintain friendships, but also, why it is important to do so. For an accurate comparison, imagine Thelma and Louise, but with eight women instead of two and “no cops on the [Drummond] island.” The possibilities for these ladies’ shenanigans were basically endless, but the fun and friendships cannot last forever without being tested by some things. Heart problems, tough pregnancies, rotten marriages and subsequent divorces, children growing up, and parents growing old are just some of the hardships these women face during their two decades of travel and companionship; even so, the harsh nature of Drummond island was no match for these women, and now, the world knows it too.​

This memoir was insightfully tongue-in-cheek at times, most memorably when introducing the eight ladies. “Susan is in the kitchen…mixing a cocktail. It might be her second Maker’s and Caffeine-Free Diet; it might be her fifth. Two decades in, yet it is impossible for me to tell which,” and, “I am older now than [Mary Lynn] was when she died, and I silently vow to never get myself invited to one of those [cardiac events],” are among my favorite remarks in this book, as well as my favorite introductions ever. After going on the first adventure with the original four Drummond Girls, I was not sure that the hijinks could get any better, but I am ecstatic to say I was wrong.

Link writes, “When I was just out of college, I’d always thought that by the time I reached a certain age, say fifty, my life would be pretty much set. I’d…have a couple good friends, a successful career, and my life would be settled into a comforting predictability.” Throughout the memoir, Link takes the reader on 13 trips to Drummond Island–some include more description about the trip itself, others include more about the ladies’ lives. As I progressed through the pages, they progressed in years, and the story slowly turned away from my experiences as a 20-something college student. The more I read, the more I could see my mother in the remaining pages telling me about her own experiences with her friends; this is why I fell in love with the Drummond Girls.

These eight ladies are a reminder that friendships foster over time, and when they foster, they are for life. They become family. Link continues the previous quote, “But predictability was not something I valued in my twenties, so why did I think it would be desirable thirty years into the future? Like that one, most of the assumptions I’d made back then turned out to be wrong…I could accept all of that uncertainty because I had seven constants in my life. I had the Drummond Girls. And they had me.”

The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance is first and foremost a story about friendship: the kind of friendship that needs to be documented. These eight ladies have had their share of ups and downs, as is wont to do in friendships, but they have weathered the proverbial storm together. Link’s memoir is a testament to the love and dedication people can give to one another. The Drummond Girls were #friendshipgoals before the pound sign became the hashtag, and most people can only aspire to live it up as much as these women have in their lifetimes. I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed a memoir as much as this one, and the only way to truly appreciate their story is to read it and then live it for yourself. Find your Drummond Girls and do not let fear stop you.

I’ve already found mine.

Picture

Thank you for reading.

Title: The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance
Author: Mardi Jo Link
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Copyright: 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4555-5474-4
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Creative Nonfiction
Page Count: 269

Find it on Amazon

Book Review: THIEF OF LIES by Brenda Drake

[This post is the fifth in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

Family Secrets Bite

Title: Thief of Lies
Author: Brenda Drake
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Copyright 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63375-221-4
Format: Hardcover
Genre: YA Fantasy Fiction
Book I of a Library Jumpers series

 

Family secrets really come back and bite Gia Kearns hard in Thief of Lies by Brenda Drake. Gia and her two best friends, Afton and Nick, go to a library in Boston just like it is any other day of summer vacation, but everything they believe they know changes when Gia accidentally says an old Italian phrase over a book causing them to jump into the book and come out in a library in Paris, France.  The world really goes further upside down for the three friends when they see a hound/rhinoceros beast start to chase after them, but ends up being stopped by a group of teenagers dressed up in gladiators type gear, with swords on and everything, right before the hound beast tries to eat them. The three friends have no idea what the heck is going on.

They discover a world with dangerous creatures that want to kill all three friends for just being plain old human. Once all three of them are safely back home, they find out this isn’t the end of their exposure to this world. Gia must quickly figure out her place in this world that would label her as a danger and should be killed on site.

Arik went through the door. My heart sputtered as I scrambled up the last steps, ignoring the pain. I froze on the landing, stuck between two worlds, desperately clinging to one while called to embrace the other. If I went through the door, my mother’s stories would come true, and I could never go back.

She must become the Sentinel she was meant to be if she doesn’t want her family and friends to die at the hands of a crazy Master Wizard Conemar, who will do anything to rule both the magical and human world. Also on top of trying to save two worlds, Gia must decide whether or not to pursue a forbidden romance with another Sentinel or marry her betrothed. Both of whom she has feelings for and are ridiculously hot.

The novel’s pacing flows together really well. We get a bunch of action types scenes—different fights with different types of creatures—but in between the action scenes we get scenes where Gia starts to discover the history and the finer rules of how this world works. We get to discover these legends as Gia discovers them, which keeps readers on their toes because they only get part of a legend at a time; when it would actually be better to get the entire thing at the same time, because there is always that little detail that gets left out that affects everything.  Also the characters are so likeable. It is hard to choose which one to root for. And this doesn’t include all the relationships that are happening between everybody—secret ones or not. After all, you get a bunch of hormonal teenagers together in a life or death situation and something is bound to happen.

Fighting for what you believe in. This phrase could quickly wrap up what this story is about and help readers to connect with it, because is not this idea/concept something parents tell their children as they grow up. “Never give up your dreams,” “if you want something bad enough, then fight for it,” and “dare to dream for the impossible” are all things that I have heard from various coaches, teachers, professors, and friends in my life and this novel really brings this concept to the forefront of Gia’s life. She must take up a sword and fight for her right to live the life that she wants. She must decide when it is right to follow blindly and when it is better to forge her own path, which are life lessons every single person needs to someday learn for themselves. Thief of Lies allows readers to see that the fight might be hard and violent, but there is hope for a brighter outcome at the end of the fight.

By Abby Hoops

Book Review: THE BFF BUCKET LIST by Dee Romito

[This post is the fourth in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

Does Best Friends really mean FOREVER?

This novel takes you on an adventure following Ella and Skyler completing the tasks on their BFF Bucket List–facing a fear, fancy dinner party, random act of kindness, 12 in all. These tasks were supposed to bring the girls back together and strengthen their relationship, but it might just have the opposite effect on them. With the completion of each task, the girls are making decisions and going off without the other, something that until now hasn’t happened before.

Ella hates change while Skyler embraces it. Ella is terrified of going to high school and meeting new people, while Skyler is beyond excited about it. Ella is obsessed with lists and following them to the letter, while Skyler just goes with the flow of it all to make Ella happy. Both of the girls are learning who they are without the other and trying to find themselves for the first time.

As Skyler branches out and makes new friends in anticipation of high school, all Ella can see is that Skyler is slipping away, little by little. Each end up with a new group of friends, some that are friendlier than others, and every girl who has ever had a BFF knows that once other people are involved, things change. But is change always bad? Ella and Skyler start keeping life changing secrets from each other and start to lean on new friends. Will this be the end of it all? Canoe flips, cows, and a few hospital visits in between the tasks on the list are teaching the girls something new about themselves and each other. They are learning to stretch out of their comfort zones but can they survive it?

If you had a BFF in middle school, this book will take you right back to that moment, that person. The perfect growing up and maturing story. Follow Ella and Skyler as they discover themselves and just how far you can stretch the bonds of friendship before they break.

Visit Dee Romito’s website for more information about this book and others.

By Amber Haynes

Welcome to the Simon-verse! Review of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

[This post is the third in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

Title: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Author: Becky Albertalli
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Copyright: 2015
ISBN: 9780062348678
Format: trade paperback
Genre: Young Adult
Page Count: 320
Find it on Goodreads
Get it on Amazon

“People really are like houses with vast rooms and tiny windows. And maybe it’s a good thing, the way we never stop surprising each other.” (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda)

Becky Albertalli’s debut novel (soon to be a Major Motion Picture) Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a riveting and fresh story of love, friendship, and identity. The book centers on the protagonist, Simon, who is being blackmailed by a classmate, Martin. The secret he’s trying to protect? He’s gay (and not out). If he can help his blackmailer get what he wants, he might be able to take back control of his secret.

Simon also has a crush — on the guy he’s been messaging from his school, the mysterious “Blue.” The two email each other, become more than friends, and share stories (as well as a love of Oreos). Simon finds himself liking Blue more and more — and he wants to know who he really is. Blue feels the same way, but something is holding him back from revealing his true identity.

The story moves quickly and beautifully. Simon’s life becomes more dramatic as the blackmail situation gets worse and worse. Will Blue reveal himself? Can Simon get Martin to stop blackmailing him? Does Simon want to come out? The answers are painted perfectly in Simon’s first person narration. Switching every other chapter between story narrative and Blue and Simon’s emails, the story keeps the reader turning the next page until the book is finished.

It’s easy to fall in love with Simon and his intelligent sarcasm and humor. Albertalli’s writing style through Simon’s point of view is funny, engaging, and honest. Simon is a kid who knows who he is but feels locked within himself, and Albertalli writes this well. His struggle to come to terms with his identity is raw and real, and will demonstrate to the reader just how hard it can be to come to terms with sexual identities. Late in the novel, Simon confesses, “And this gay thing. It feels so big. It’s almost insurmountable. I don’t know how to tell them something like this and still come out feeling like Simon.” He wants to tell his closest friends — he feels like he needs to, it is a part of himself, but he still wants to feel the same around them.

Though it’s not exactly considered dialogue, this reviewer’s favorite parts of the book were the emails sent between Simon and his mysterious crush “Blue.” The messages and the banter between the two of them makes readers fall in love with Simon even more and makes them root for him throughout the story. The couple emails about their identity struggles, their families, and so much more. It just shows how honest communication can happen through mostly any method nowadays, and that relationship are built on just that — communication. Albertalli paints a beautiful relationship through the emails two people sent to one another, and the craft is well-done.

True and honest LGBT+ representation is hard, almost impossible to find in today’s literature. Albertalli took this lack of representation into her own hands and did what she could to give what needed to be given. Simon’s story is important not just because of the riveting story and plotline, but because it normalizes literature that represents all people.

Overall, the book gives the reader a refreshing, progressive story that one reviewer described as “The love child of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.” This is pretty accurate, and some may even add that Simon’s voice is similar to Holden Caulfield from Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. It’s part love story, part comedy, and readers are sure to fall in love with Simon and his story. 

Go check out the book here: (x

Check out author Becky Albertalli here: @beckyalbertalli 

By Kristen Parks

Book Review: Glued to THE GIRL BEFORE by Rena Olsen

[This post is the second in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

Glued. That’s the word I think of when I think about Rena Olsen’s The Girl Before. My eyes were glued to the pages – even after my head started to hurt from reading for so long. It’s everything all at once. Riveting. Troubling. Fascinating. Suspenseful. I found myself ready to turn to the next page as soon as I had started one – something that I’ve been lacking in novel reading for a while.

Olsen’s novel centers around a young woman named Clara who’s life is turned upside down when men in suits come into her house, separate her from her husband and daughters, and call her by the name “Diana” – a name she doesn’t recognize. She watches her husband get dragged away as he shouts at her, “Say nothing, baby, okay?” and “I love you, baby! Remember that!” As she waits in alone in a small room, she struggles between saying nothing and wanting to spill everything. She knows she’s done nothing wrong, but how will these people understand? Questions run circles in her brain. Will she see her husband again? Will she see her daughters again? As Olsen moves back and forth from past and present, readers slowly start to learn about who Clara is and where she comes from. At times the reader begs the question, is Clara the victim or villain?

The Girl Before moves back and forth with a Now and Then storyline, and it is written in first person. Allowing readers to slowly piece together Clara’s story, and better understand her decisions and experiences. Clara has been so sheltered that many times readers know more than she does about her own upbringing, and sometimes you don’t know whether to feel sympathetic or angry that she’s so naïve.

This book covers some disturbing content, making it all the more intriguing to read. The story focuses heavily on dialogue and the weight of verbal and non-verbal communication dynamics between characters. Much of the story is told through nonverbal expressions, and the way people say things to each other.

The only thing I had trouble with was how quickly the novel came to a conclusion. It felt rushed, considering what Clara had to go through. While reading, I had trouble believing certain scenarios and how they were resolved. However, after discovering that Olsen has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, it made sense how she was able to tap into the complexity of Clara’s thought processes so clearly – and I wouldn’t have been able to understand her decisions, and the decisions of other characters without this. This novel is so many things all at once, and it’s going to stick with you.

If you want to be enthralled by a story, pick this one up.

By Makayla Smart

Book Review: THE HATE U GIVE, and the Knowledge We Get

[This post is the first in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

Over halfway through Angie Thomas‘s debut novel, these words – spoken by the main character’s mother – rip through readers as we witness her growth and the love of her family:
“‘Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared, Starr,’ she says.  ‘It means that you go on even though you’re scared.  And you’re doing that.'”

The Hate U Give is a haunting story that centers around sixteen-year-old black high school student Starr Carter.  Already struggling to balance a double life between a rich, primarily-white private school and a poor, gang-afflicted neighborhood, Starr’s life is only tougher after she witnesses the murder of her childhood friend, Khalil, at the hands of a white police officer.  Facing the trauma of Khalil’s death, the miles of red tape of the judicial system, the idiocy of privileged high school students, and the harsh realities of gang violence, Starr is an indisputably remarkable character.  And what’s more, she’s written honestly by a bold new author, who – excuse the cliché here – says exactly what needs to be said year after year in America.

What really pulls readers into The Hate U Give is Thomas’s memorable characters.  The entire novel is told through Starr’s perspective, so it’s easiest to witness her growth from a timid, quiet teen to a well-informed and well-spoken activist.  We get honest glimpses into her past, as well, witnessing both the pain and love of her past side-by-side.  Maybe some will say it’s “too real” for young audiences, but I think what Thomas understands is that, in YA, “too real” is exactly what we need.  It’s how we’re able to percieve Starr’s growth, which comes together in an older, wiser, and stronger character that we find ourselves extremely proud of.

Thomas’s writing is, at its heart, powerful.  It gives us a close-up perspective of a world many teens and children live in now: its violence, cruelty, love, and eventually, its unity.  At the end of the novel, we fully understand alongside Starr that these things must exist together, and we must find a place within them.  It’s a novel I’m thankful to have experienced.

And remember, this is Thomas’s very first novel.  Keeping a title at the top of the New York Times bestsellers list for weeks is no small achievement, and with a premier novel?  I think I speak for all devoted YA readers when I say that we can’t wait for the next title she puts out.  As it continues to make huge ripples in the literary scene, The Hate U Give proves to be a novel every teen, parent, poor college student – every person needs to read immediately.  It’s an excellent catalyst for discussion, for mingling experiences and identities together, and for insight into the very real problems of police brutality, gang violence, and poverty.

Please read it.  You won’t regret it.

By M.S. Swain

What? Win money at MWW?

Forget Emmy, Oscar, Tony, and even Grammy

At Midwest Writers Workshop, it’s all about Manny. That’s what we call our annual manuscript contest, and it’s open-free of charge-to anyone registered for Part 2 of MWW17. We’ve taken a real-world approach to our competition. Editors tell us that they know if a manuscript shows promise after reading the opening 1,000 words. So, we ask contest entrants to submit only the first 1,000 words (or about five pages) of a work in progress. We have four categories: Long fiction (think novels), short fiction (think magazine stories), nonfiction (not fake news), and poetry. We only award one winner in each category because in the competitive world of publishing, sorry, there are no runners-up.

The rules are simple and the payoff is in cash. You’re competing for a $50 prize per category. The four winners then compete for our overall R. Karl Largent Writer of the Year Award and the $150 check that goes with it. Here’s what you need to do:
  • Enter only one manuscript.
  • Mark whether your submission is long fiction, short fiction, nonfiction, or poetry.
  • Mail the opening 1,000 words or 5 pages: hard copy, double spaced, 12-point type (about four pages).
  • Plan to attend the closing banquet (required) to learn if you are one of our lucky winners.
  • Deadline for entries: June 17.