Q&A with poet Liz Whiteacre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MWW: What are you working on now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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Matthew’s Part I session is:
Making Your Thriller Thrilling:  From inception to completion, we will touch on the steps to writing an exciting, suspenseful thriller.  Creating real-life characters, intriguing settings, building suspense, and even using humor. We will also discuss adding tools to your writer’s toolbox that will allow you to succeed regardless of your chosen genre. Not just a lecture, we will do numerous writing exercises in a workshop setting. [NOTE: this session is 53% full! Register soon!]
His Part II sessions are:
Saturday, 1:15-2:15 p.m.– Panel on the crime writing business (also includes Lori Rader-Day, Larry D. Sweazy and D.E. Johnson)
Saturday, 2:30-3:30 p.m.– Master Class: Nuts And Bolts: Basics Of Novel Writing + The Book Doctor Is In. A discussion of completing a novel from the first glimmer of an idea through writing a complete manuscript. Gleaning an idea, developing it, researching it, writing the first draft, revising, and editing, all the way through to searching for the perfect agent for your work. Including a 25-point checklist to know if you’re done with your novel. Matthew uses the checklist is his own work and as a developmental editor.
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

 

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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
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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!


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The Great #MWWmagnet contest

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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!

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Committee Member Jeffrey Pearson on Being a Poet

Every so often we unlock the closet we keep our poets in. Recently when MWW committee member Jeffrey Pearson got out, he spoke at The David Owsley Museum of Art at Ball State University.

It was  PechaKucha Night. PechaKucha, or “chit-chat” in Japanese, is a unique, fast-paced, and fun presentation format: 20 slides for 20 seconds each. October’s theme was “Being.”

Jeff presented on being a poet in the city. That’s the thing we love about our poets (including MWW committee member Michael Brockley): they don’t wait for people to come to poetry, they take poetry to the people. 

Below, Jeff was kind enough to share his presentation on being a poet. 

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The City has given life and voice to poets like William Carlos Williams, CP Cavafy, Jack Gilbert, Frank O’Hara. In return, I think a poet gives the same back to the city. Their words, written and spoken, can help define it, its people, its reason for being.

The Owsley Museum is a wonderful place for poets. Last month they invited Mike Brockley and me to write poems on demand for you patrons and you kept us busy.

In 2009, they brought in then Indiana Poet Laureate Norbert Krapf and pianist Monika Herzig for a delightful Sunday afternoon of poetry and jazz.

During the Asian Miniatures exhibit, about 40 people joined us in writing a ghazal, an ancient poetic form. Some were boyfriends dragged in by their art student girlfriends, but mostly, they were all good sports. We split into five groups and each group wrote a couplet, ending in the word water. It turned out pretty good.

Here is a 1991 handbill for the second annual Humpback Barn Festival, which was held in Mildred Trivers barn and paired poets with artists. It went on for 17 years, ending its run at Minnetrista Cultural Center.

Mildred told us, “Slow down” when we got up to read, and “Poets are dangerous people.”

Mike Brockley and I serve on  the Midwest Writers Workshop committee. The workshop meets in July and next year will be our 43rd. Mostly, they don’t know what to do with their poets, so they lock us in closets. Only letting us out to do some events around town.

Vera Mae’s has been a great partner for National Poetry Month. We’ve had readings by several Indiana poets including two Poet Laureates.

There’s been poetry and jazz at Doc’s Music Hall.

Gallery 308 invited us to collaborate with Sally Myers and with Carol Blakney and Mary Ann Rhea.

And the the Open Door Clinic has three of my poems on the exterior of their building.

We have written Poems on Demand at the big ArtsWalks in the spring and fall downtown. We started about a decade ago.

In October, 2013, Mike and I wrote 42 poems.

This month was a challenge with the wind, and we eventually had to take down the canopy. Thankfully, I was writing a poem for Architecture students who were good building things with their hands, and they had the tent down in no time. Only one girl named Dot was blown away by the wind.

Here is Mike with his “grokking” hat on. You know, that word is in the dictionary. Actually I think that might be my hat. So that’s where it went. And here are some of our clientele. Looking for a party idea? Wedding? Consider Poets for Hire.

Tools of the trade for Poems While You Wait: Manual typewriters, paper, and a table to sit at.

Writing a poem for someone else, up close and personal, can be daunting and surreal. You have to suspend your own windows of perception to get yourself out of your box.

A woman this year asked me, “How do we do this?” I really don’t know, it’s different each time. I keep asking questions, digging deeper. Really it’s not as bad as a minute with Lucy. A little closer to divination. In that empathic moment, something beautiful happens

It’s as if I’m hanging there in mid air, grasping for anything. Then you say something that’s gold.

“He’s a good man to have around.”

“A secret life of serial parking violations.”

“The Cute One and the Chattanooga Red Hot.”

“He held me grand.” (This one is thanks to James Still.)

These are the hooks into the poems.

It’s all about going through a portal and into someone else’s head. Like in this movie. You’re on that half-floor you never knew existed. You can do it. No kidding. Suddenly you’re seeing through their eyes. Lean back, flex your fingers and begin to type.

Here’s Mike working again. Notice, we can’t see if the table is firmly on the ground or not. After writing—we read the poem aloud. People don’t expect this, to hear the words being read by the author. It’s a captivating surprise—the vision, the words and the voice.

Maybe you know this scene with the street poet who writes a verse for Celine and Jesse. Pity the poor sceptic who assumes the poems are recycled, with only a few words changed. Oh, where is your joy, man. Have a little faith. We are artistes!

Don’t take my word for it. Here are some happy customers who can attest to the veracity and spontaneity of our work. There are folks you simply cannot fool. One testimonial states, “Arf, Arf, Arf, Arf.” Translated. “Poets are great at parties, too.”

Here’s a list of the poets who helped out at the Living Lightly Fair last month. It was a dark and stormy morning, and thunderstorms drove us us inside before the Fair had a chance to begin. But the sun broke through, and each poet had their own strategy of delving out a poem.

And again, its nice to have the poem read out loud.

Interurban, my writing group in Indy, helped out at the Broad Ripple Art Fair in June.

Here is another strategy:

Observe your surroundings.

Listen to what is said next to you.

Lydia is asking Liza Hyatt’s daughter three questions. That went into my poem for Ashley who worked with the flower art booth. Man, I’m a sponge in the worst way.

Legend has it a woman saw Picasso working in the park

“It’s you. You must sketch my portrait!”

He agreed. Studied a moment, and used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait.

“It’s perfect! You captured my essence with one stroke. Thank you! How much do I owe you?”

“Five thousand dollars.”

“But. It only took you a second to draw it!” How could you want so much money for this picture?

“Madame,’ he said. “It took me my entire life.”

So how much is enough? People have told us a dollar isn’t. Twenty isn’t either, but how many will stop by for that price?

But then…sometimes…we are paid in immeasurable ways. Like Katy, who got back a piece of art.

Or the best gift of all…

Alice’s reaction. Those moments filled with revelations and smiles are amazing. Heartbeats sync when you say,

“Oh I was just thinking of my grandmother.”

Or “Cherries are my son’s favorite.”

Or “I love honeysuckle.”

But these words were never mentioned at all before I wrote it. That’s the Muse. It truly is a magic way to be.

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Your first 10 pages evaluated! Register now!

This is what Midwest Writers does: we provide writers with opportunities to improve their writing.

So, take advantage of THIS opportunity!

Get the first 10 pages of your manuscript evaluated by TWO professional authors and editors.

MWW October 10th “Manuscript Makeover for FICTION” session with Holly Miller and Dr. Dennis Hensley still has openings.

If you write any kind of fiction (young adult, contemporary, romance, literary fiction, women’s fiction, middle grade, fantasy, science fiction — really, we can’t list them all) — except mystery and we offer a separate Manuscript Makeover for that, see below — then sign up for this one-day intensive session.

MWW-16Manuscript Makeover is limited to 20 participants who have fiction projects–either novels or short stories-in progress. The six-hour workshop is led by Holly G. Miller, author of  Feature and Magazine Writing and consulting editor to two national magazines, and Dennis E. Hensley, chair of the professional writing department at Taylor University and author of  Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours. After registering for the class, each participant should e-mail a one-page synopsis–with a working title–plus the first nine pages of his/her project to dnhensley@hotmail.com. Please double-space and format in 12-point Times New Roman font.

Holly and Dennis will personally edit all pages to return to the authors at the workshop. In addition, the instructors will display on a screen and discuss portions of each student’s manuscript. Students will receive folders filled with handouts plus their edited manuscript midway through the day. As time permits, Holly and Dennis will discuss plots, character development, editing techniques, finding an agent, and marketing a published book.

The instructors have co-authored seven books together-including a series of novels as well as completed several solo book assignments.

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Here’s what others say about their MM experience:

Rod Huron:

Wow!  Am I glad I came to the MWW Manuscript Makeover.  Dennis and Holly enabled me to see what I had missed before.  Their help was sensible, practical and needed.  Glad I came.

Kassie Ritman:

You could spend weeks, even months pouring over countless “how-to” books covering every detail needed to successfully publish your manuscript–or–you could spend a day at the Midwest Writers’ Manuscript Makeover!

Like most writers, I tend to be quite solitary in nature. So I was shaking in my lucky boots last spring while I clicked the “send” button that signed me up!

Arriving, day-of, my knees were still knocking as we all introduced ourselves and exchanged pleasantries. I was both shocked and surprised by the variant levels of career achievement of the writers surrounding me. There were beginners (like me) and there were seasoned, working pros, genre hoppers and even those who were already represented by agents! The most amazing part was realizing (only one hour into the workshop) I really wanted to skip lunch! The feedback on my own work in progress was priceless, but seeing excerpts and hearing the critique of other writer’s works was absolutely golden. Their samples started discussions about pitfalls I knew I had lurking in my own manuscript (perhaps several chapters down the story-line). I also learned what I was doing well which was a sorely needed boost to my trembling ego!

I really, really, enjoyed the day! I’m still corresponding with another one of the participants, and we have been beta reading and peer coaching each other. Even though we write in totally different genres, it’s been a super experience!

Wendy Hart Beckman:

I participated in Holly Miller and Dennis Hensley’s Manuscript Makeover in March 2015. Even though I have published eight nonfiction books, I knew I could still learn a lot from this pair of talented writers and presenters! My Makeover experience was even better than I’d hoped, because I am currently in the middle of a project, writing with a co-author for the first time, and my co-author was able to attend with me. As I expected, the day was full of great instruction and grand inspiration!

REGISTER HERE!

October 10, 8:30 am – 3:00 pm

Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, IN

Let’s talk about ROI—Return on Investment. If you choose to invest in your writing career by attending the Manuscript Makeover workshop, here’s what you’ll get in return:

  • The opening 10 pages and the synopsis of your novel will be double-edited by two professional writers who have written, between them, more than 35 published books.
  • You’ll receive feedback from other participants in the workshop, many of whom comprise your target audience.
  • Your working title will be discussed and compared with the titles of current bestsellers.
  • You’ll complete a “blooper quiz” (no grades, we promise) that will sharpen your line-editing skills.
  • You’ll be given a folder filled with handouts that have been custom-prepared to help you move your manuscript closer to publication.
  • You’ll leave the workshop knowing exactly what your next steps should be.

Who should attend Manuscript Makeover? You’ll find the workshop helpful if you identify with one of these three situations:

  1. If you’ve barely begun a book project and are unsure if you should continue;
  2. if you’ve completed a book-length manuscript and wonder if it’s ready to be sent to an agent or editor;
  3. if you’ve completed a book-length manuscript and have attempted to market it but without success.

This is a busy day, but it’s also a fun day. Everyone is on a first-name basis because as different as we are, we have a lot in common: We’re readers and we’re writers, even if our words have yet to be published!

Two other MM sessions also have a few openings!

“Manuscript Makeover for MYSTERY” Led by Terence Faherty

Terence Faherty is a two-time Edgar nominee for the Owen Keane series, which follows the adventures of a failed seminarian turned meta-physical detective. He is a two-time winner of the Shamus Award for his Scott Elliott private eye series, which is set in the golden age of Hollywood. His short fiction has won the Macavity Award from Mystery Readers International. His latest book,  The Quiet Woman,  is a romantic mystery set in Ireland, with a ghost.

“Manuscript Makeover for NONFICTION” Led by Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the author of 26 books, 22 in nonfiction. His thousands of nonfiction articles have been published by Harper’s, The Nation, Saturday Evening Post, GQ, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Fraternal Law, Diablo (city) Magazine, Boston Magazine, Indianapolis Monthly and many more.