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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

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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Your first 10 pages evaluated! Register now!

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

So, take advantage of THIS opportunity!

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Here’s what others say about their MM experience:

Rod Huron:

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

Kassie Ritman:

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

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

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

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

Wendy Hart Beckman:

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

REGISTER HERE!

October 10, 8:30 am – 3:00 pm

Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, IN

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

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

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

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

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

Two other MM sessions also have a few openings!

“Manuscript Makeover for MYSTERY” Led by Terence Faherty

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

“Manuscript Makeover for NONFICTION” Led by Hank Nuwer

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

Three Manuscript Makeover sessions: Oct 10, 2015

MWW offers One-Day Intensive “Manuscript Makeover” Sessions

October 10, 2015 at Ball State Alumni Center, 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

On Saturday, October 10, MWW offers THREE intensive sessions in our very popular Manuscript Makeover format, where participants submit the first 10 pages of their works-in-progress for evaluation.

“Manuscript Makeover for FICTION” led by Holly Miller and Dr. Dennis E. Hensley

“Manuscript Makeover for MYSTERY” led by Terence Faherty

“Manuscript Makeover for NONFICTION” led by Hank Nuwer

Give your writing a boost with hands-on help for your work-in-progress! These special intensive sessions will be held at the Ball State Alumni Center, (Muncie, IN) from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm. Class size is limited! Attend the session of your choice for $155 (includes a brown bag lunch so the work continues to flow).

REGISTER HERE!

“Manuscript Makeover for FICTION” Led by Holly Miller & Dr. Dennis E. Hensley

Hensley DennisMiller-HollyManuscript Makeover is limited to 20 participants who have fiction projects—either novels or short stories—in progress. The six-hour workshop is led by Holly G. Miller, author of Feature and Magazine Writing and consulting editor to two national magazines, and Dennis E. Hensley, chair of the professional writing department at Taylor University and author of Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours. After registering for the class, each participant should e-mail a one-page synopsis—with a working title—plus the first nine pages of his/her project to dnhensley@hotmail.com. Please double-space and format in 12-point Times New Roman font. Holly and Dennis will personally edit all pages to return to the authors at the workshop. In addition, the instructors will display on a screen and discuss portions of each student’s manuscript. Students will receive folders filled with handouts plus their edited manuscript midway through the day. As time permits, Holly and Dennis will discuss plots, character development, editing techniques, finding an agent, and marketing a published book.

The instructors have co-authored seven books together—including a series of novels as well as completed several solo book assignments. Don’t hesitate; this workshop always fills up quickly and is offered only once a year. If you have questions, e-mail them to hollygmill@sbcglobal.net or dnhensley@hotmail.com .

“Manuscript Makeover for MYSTERY” Led by Terence Faherty

Faherty PortraitThis Manuscript Makeover is limited to 10 participants who have a mystery or crime writing manuscript in progress. Each participant will submit the opening ten pages of a book-in-progress, along with a one-page synopsis. These pages will be critiqued by Terry and then examined (on an overhead) in class. As a group, the session will discuss, practice, review, and apply this revision process to our drafts. We’ll explore the elements of craft that make a mystery novel impossible to put down. Whether you write cozies or hard-boiled, PI or amateur sleuth, you’ll learn how the effective use of plot, narrative, voice, setting, character, dialogue, and suspense can take your work to the next level. Email your submission to midwestwriters@yahoo.com.

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

“Manuscript Makeover for NONFICTION” Led by Hank Nuwer

Nuwer HankThis interactive intensive is designed for all nonfiction writers. This includes writers of creative nonfiction, literary journalism, memoir, service (how to) journalism and features of all types. Participants (limited to 10) will submit the first 10 pages of a manuscript in progress. Hank will edit and critique these pages and display them (anonymously) to the class as a way of revealing strengths and weaknesses in the material. Additionally, Hank will lead the participants in writing exercises and offer advice on such topics as using dialogue and scene setting, learning to self-edit and to remove manuscript clutter, finding the right markets for manuscripts and guarding your time so you can produce while working full time, raising children, or taking care of an elderly parent. Email your submission to hnuwer@franklincollege.edu.

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

 

Q&A with D.E. Johnson

 

Johnson DEAlthough D.E. “Dan” Johnson always wanted to write, for the first half of his life, he chose practicality over passion.

After a long, successful career in the audio-video retail business, he sold his Grand Rapids, Michigan-based company in 2006. He took a couple years off to get back to the dream and use the time to hone his writing skills. As it turned out, it was time well spent.

In 2008, Dan met veteran P.I. novelist Loren Estleman, who agreed to read some of Dan’s work. Dan sent him the first three chapters of his novel in progress, The Detroit Electric Scheme, a historical mystery set in 1910 Detroit. To Dan’s delight, Estleman praised the work, comparing it to Les Miserables. The book found a publisher (St. Martin’s Minotaur Books) and hit the bookstores in September 2010. The Detroit Electric Scheme was named one of Booklist’s Top Ten First Crime Novels of the Year and won a 2011 Michigan Notable Book Award.

Dan followed up with three more books in the series — Motor City Shakedown, named one of the Top 5 Crime Novels of 2011 by the House of Crime and Mystery, called “extraordinarily vivid” by The New York Times, and won a 2012 Michigan Notable Book Award; Detroit Breakdown, placed on the best crime novels’ list for 2012 by multiple publications; and Detroit Shuffle, which earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews in 2013.

A 2009 Midwest Writers Workshop Fellow, Dan calls MWW’s summer workshop one of the best conferences in the country and certainly the best value.” He is joining MWW’s 2015 faculty, teaching an all-day Thursday intensive session, “Writing the Crime Novel,” an hour-long Friday afternoon session, “Settings You Can’t Escape”; a Saturday morning buttonhole, “Characters You Can’t Forget”; and a Saturday afternoon session, “The Hows and Whys of POV.”

Dan and his wife, Shelly, make their home near Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he grew up. We thank Dan for speaking with MWW Planning Committee member Janis Thornton earlier this week about his writing and his journey as an author. The result, a Q&A with Dan, follows.

*   *   *

MWW: When we first met at the MWW fellows’ retreat in the spring of 2009, you didn’t yet know it, but you were on the brink of landing your first publishing contract, resulting in your highly successful The Detroit Electric Scheme, which came out the very next year. What did that achievement do for your confidence as a writer, your passion for writing, and your writing itself?

DEJ: It was very affirming to get my first book deal and a thrill beyond description to see the manuscript in hardcover. My confidence really jumped, which let me give myself permission to take more chances in the subsequent books. As far as passion, I had pretty well maxed that out already. After denying myself writing most of my adult life, I dove in with both feet in true compulsive fashion.

MWW: Now, four books later, what has been your biggest writing-related surprise? And what has been the most satisfying aspect of becoming a published novelist?

DEJ: I’d say the biggest surprises have been the affirmations by critics. My books have gotten three starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, and one each from Booklist, Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews. I’ve also won two Michigan Notable Book Awards, which I didn’t even know existed until my publisher submitted my first book. I was just hoping to get a book out there in the world, so it’s been really gratifying to have a good reception for four of them so far.

The most satisfying aspect, without a doubt, is reader email. Two kinds in particular: my fave is the “You kept me up all night” email, because that tells me I did my job, and also emails from readers who feel like my book has connected them to some aspect of their past, usually an ancestor who lived in Detroit during the time period. Just the fact that people feel compelled to share something about their reading experience with me is amazing.

MWW: Please tell us a bit about your writing process. For example, do you write until you reach a daily word goal, a certain number of pages, or a particular stretch of time? Do you plot your story in advance, or do you let the story reveal itself as you progress?

DEJ: My process is to write every opportunity I get. I’ve seen quotes from many writers along the lines of, “I get inspired by putting my butt in my seat.” Since I also work a “real” job, I can’t wait for my muse to call. I write early in the morning and most weekends — all weekend — until I’m done. On occasion, I’ll give myself a word count goal, but usually I slog along until I’m finished.

I plot in advance but give myself permission to change anything and everything. Two of my books even have different antagonists than I expected when I started. A mystery plot has to follow a pretty specific convention, and I find it much easier to have a plan.

MWW: Where are you in your Detroit series? Now four books into it, you’ve taken your readers from 1910 to 1912. How far into your character s’ future will you keep the series going? Is there a new series brewing, and if there is, what is it?

DEJ: I’m giving Will, Elizabeth, and company a well-deserved rest. They need to heal their bumps, bruises, cuts, gunshot wounds, radiation burns, etc., before I punish them further. I’m currently working on two different Chicago-based series, one in the gambling world of the early 1900s, and the other in a grimmer reality after the Great Fire. Both still need work, so I’m not sure which will surface first.

MWW: What is the ratio of time you spend conducting research vs. time you are writing? What is the primary source for your research? When you are writing, how do you make that mental shift from 2015 to 1912?

DEJ: When I was working on plotting The Detroit Electric Scheme, I spent three months full-time on research. I’ve been able to use that material throughout the series, and I’d guess I probably spent another four weeks in research out of the year, give or take, it took me the write each book. There are a lot of good sources for researching the time period, none better than the archives of the Detroit News and Free Press.

As far as “thinking 1912,” I give myself a running start. Before I go to bed, I read the section I just wrote to put me in the proper frame of mind for the next morning. I’ll usually read it again just before I start writing.

MWW: What advice do you have for writers in their mid-life years, and beyond, who dream of being a published author but are still looking for that first book deal?

DEJ: Don’t give up! Perseverance is the most important trait for a writer to be published. Hundreds of famous authors were rejected dozens or hundreds of times before they made it. However, you also need to be realistic about your project. Even though you’re in love with your post-Apocalyptic YA novel, chances are agents are not going to be these days. Look for your next idea, sit your butt down, and get to work.

MWW: You are booked for a Thursday intensive session, “Writing the Crime Novel.” What would you like your participants to know in advance about you and the material you’ll be teaching? What’s the best way for them to prepare for the class? And what is the most helpful writing advice you plan to pass on to them?

DEJ: First of all, we’ll have fun. The class will be part lecture and part workshop, with a lot of interaction. I’ll be touching on all the important aspects of writing thrillers, mysteries and crime novels, from characters and setting to plotting and writing violence that kicks the reader in the gut. My topic is so big I don’t know that I can single out any one piece of advice I think is most important. My goal is to give the writers a blueprint for writing the best book they can. If the attendees have works in progress, that’s great, but the only prep necessary is to drink lots of coffee beforehand and be ready to go!

MWW: Thank you, Dan! We look forward to seeing you in July.

Q&A with Julie Hyzy

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

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

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

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

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

*  *  *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MWW: What project are you working on currently?

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

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

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

MWW: Thank you, Julie!

REGISTER TODAY!

The Non-fiction Writer’s Tool Kit: March 21, 2015

Greetings! Our latest MWW mini-conference on March 21st is around the corner, and we like to think spring is too! Plan to join us to learn screenwriting, strengthen your social networking, or up your game with non-fiction writing.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, IN

Cost: $155 (includes lunch)

One of the four sessions is “Shaping the Real Work: The Non-fiction Writer’s Tool Kit” taught by Lou Harry.

At MWW, we’re all about forging new paths as publishing continues to evolve. Plus, we are mindful of our rich legacy. So trust us when we say that non-fiction and fiction writing enhance one another. For that reason, we coaxed Lou Harry to tuck MWW into his jam-packed schedule and teach at the mini-conference. Lou’s made a career of specializing in the many forms of non-fiction.

Some of you may remember Earl Conn and Alan Garinger, who passed away after years of service to MWW. They used to say that non-fiction writing can be a stepping stone to a fiction career. If you doubt them, the evidence is clear. The examples are endless, from Michael Connelly to Elizabeth Berg (our keynote speaker last year) to Neil Gaiman and Chuck Wendig (who is coming this year). Non-fiction writing–from essays to news stories, from columns to blogs–is a great way to get noticed. Just ask our 2013 faculty member Roxane Gay, whose collection of essays Bad Feminist is winning awards and snagging her speaking engagements, as she also promotes her debut novel An Untamed State.

So if you are someone whose first love is fiction, please don’t discount the idea of learning about non-fiction. Lou’s expertise may be just the help you need for getting your non-fiction ideas launched. And writing shorter work has many rewards, such as seeing your byline in print and giving you ideas for your fiction.

Lou Harry’s wildly eclectic output includes books on creativity, sports, drinks, movies, life lessons, gadgets, guilty pleasures, voodoo, excuses, crop circles, Santa Claus (and Martians), curse words, parenting, trivia and, this year, squirrels. The co-creator and editor of Indy Men’s Magazine and current Arts & Entertainment Editor for the Indianapolis Business Journal (www.ibj.com/arts), Lou has written for more than 50 publications including Variety, Mental_Floss, and This Old House. While on journalistic assignments, he has profiled CEOs, escorted a spiral-cut ham into a movie theater, took a pie in the face from Soupy Sales, attended Broadway openings, exposed tarot readers, sat on the Full House couch, gotten attached to a Velcro wall, and turned his honeymoon into a travel story. He hopes one day to have a book for every category in the Dewey Decimal System.

MWW: You showed such enthusiasm and creativity at MWW 2013, I’m wondering what you have in store for mini conference participants. Will there be writing and discussion or mostly a lecture format?

LOU: Lecture, schmecture. Yes, I’ll do some talking and offer solid, specific advice. But we’re also going to dig into fun, engaging, and, most importantly, useful writing exercises. The most important thing to me is helping the attendees move forward.

MWW: Is your presentation aimed toward a certain level of writer or can people enter into the class from wherever they are and jump up a level or more?

LOU: Come as you are. All of the discussion and activity is geared toward taking you to the next level, wherever you stand right now.

MWW: What is the scope of the class? For example, will you cover writing craft mostly or will finding markets and how to query be covered?

LOU: There are three key elements: Finding markets, approaching those markets wisely, and being a writer who is ready for those markets. All three need to happen for successful sales.

MWW: What would you tell those who haven’t met you and/or have never been in such an intensive class or maybe haven’t tested the waters of non-fiction, to help them get off the fence and register?

LOU: Are you satisfied with where you are in the writing universe right now? If not, then strongly consider joining us for an afternoon. I’m going to be teaching the class that I wish I could have taken.

MWW: Please provide a couple of links to your work, if possible, so people can easily find it.

www.louharry.com
www.ibj.com/arts
http://howlround.com/authors/lou-harry

Register soon!

Elizabeth Berg: MWW Community Event

Midwest Writers Workshop

Features Author Elizabeth Berg 

for Special Presentation, Public Invited

Berg, ElizabethAcclaimed, bestselling author Elizabeth Berg will be the guest speaker during a special program at this year’s Midwest Writers Workshop (MWW) on the Ball State University campus. Berg’s presentation is set for 7 p.m. Friday, July 25 in Pruis Hall. The program is open to the public. Admission is free, but registration through Eventbrite is recommended. (Those registered for MWW14 are already registered!)

Eventbrite - ELIZABETH BERG  Behind the Page: An Intimate Look at a Writer's Life

Berg will speak about her life as a writer, starting from when she was five years old up to the present, when, even now, she says, “she is still five, really.”

The author of more than 20 novels, her latest Tapestry of Fortunes, Berg says she’s always felt the urge to write, and was just nine years old when she submitted her first piece of writing—a poem—for publication. It was rejected, which “hurt her feelings,” and that is why she waited 25 years before submitting her next piece. By then, as a mother of two young children, she sent an essay to Parents magazine. It was accepted, and the rest is history.

She credits her 10 years as a registered nurse as a kind of school for writing. Taking care of patients taught her about human nature, she says, particularly “about hope and fear and love and loss and regret and triumph and especially about relationships—all things that I tend to focus on in my work.”

Berg is often described as a storyteller with the ability to find the extraordinary in the mundane and to connect with readers by understanding what’s in their heart. It is often said that curling up with a Berg book is like spending time with an old friend. Entertainment Weekly has said, “Berg’s writing is to literature what Chopin’s études are to music—measured, delicate, and impossible to walk away from until their completion.”

Many of Berg’s books have been on the New York Times Bestseller list. Durable Goods and Joy School were both selected as one of the American Library Association’s best books of the year. Talk Before Sleep was shortlisted for the Abby (American Bookseller’s Book of the Year). Open House was an Oprah’s Book Club Selection. In 1997, Elizabeth won the New England Booksellers Award for her body of work.

Her book, The Art of Mending, was a choice for South Dakota’s “One Book.” She was made a “literary light” by the Boston Public Library, has been honored by the Chicago Public Library, and was given the AMC Cancer Research Center’s Illuminator Award for shedding light on breast cancer resulting in increased public awareness and concern. She adapted her novel The Pull of the Moon into a play, which has twice been performed in Chicago to sold-out audiences. Her article on a cooking school in Positano, Italy, which appeared in National Geographic Traveler magazine, won a NATJA award (North American Travel Journalists Association) and has been nominated for a Lowell Thomas award, results pending. Her books have been translated into 27 languages.

Her next book, The Bird Lover, is scheduled for release in the spring of 2015.

Since its founding in 1973, MWW has been devoted to providing writers of all stages in their career the opportunity to improve their craft, to associate with highly credentialed professionals, and to network with other writers. This is the first year that MWW is offering one of its conference’s events to the entire community. It is pleased to invite the general public to welcome the delightful Elizabeth Berg to Ball State.

Following her keynote address, many of her books will be available for purchase and she will have a book signing.

— Janis Thornton

Elizabeth Berg poster

Interview with author Matthew V. Clemens

Matthew ClemensMatthew Clemens, in collaboration with Max Allan Collins, has penned seventeen 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 have also authored a pair of thrillers You Can’t Stop Me and No One Will Hear You for Kensington.  Look for What Doesn’t Kill You in 2013.

MWW committee member Cathy Shouse interviewed Matthew.

Cathy: Please tell us how you first came to MWW and how many years you have been involved.

Matthew: Wow, first MWW, 1990 or 1991. I’ve attended every conference since. One of my mentors was R. Karl Largent (the man whose name is on the writing prize). He came to my home conference, David R. Collins’ Mississippi Valley Writers Conference, to teach in ’89 or ’90, and suggested that, if I was serious, I should attend other conferences as well, and he pushed MWW. The next year, I came. He was right. I first came as an attendee, have been fortunate enough to be asked in as faculty, and have just generally served as the camp mascot other years. These people have become not just my friends, but my family.

Cathy: Since this summer is the 40th workshop, the committee has been reminiscing about the people and events in years past. What are some special times and/or people that were especially memorable for you?

Matthew: And you thought the last answer was long-winded . . . Special people? Earl Conn, Karl Largent, Jama Bigger, Helen Tirey, Alan Garinger, Fred Woodress, Ron Groves, Wes Gehring, Glenna Glee Jenkins, and the current committee members, and speakers like Donald E. Westlake, Joyce Carol Oates, the incomparable Bill Braschler, John Gilstrap, Julie Hyzy, and George Plimpton. Those are just the names of some of the people off the top of my head.

Good times? A few. Wes convincing me to dress up as Sister Arnulfa, Karl’s nemesis, when Karl received the Dorothy Hamilton award. There was the time Jama, Wes, and I had breakfast with George Plimpton while he regaled us with tales of sitting atop the Green Monster in Fenway Park. Singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” as my eulogy for Karl. My favorite? I still cry when I think about receiving the Dorothy Hamilton Award. To be considered highly enough to get the same award as one of my writing fathers was as touching as anything that’s happened to me. In short, I feel I owe my career, my entire writing life to MWW.

Cathy: Of your many career achievements, which ones stand out as the most significant to you and why?

Matthew: Okay, the Dorothy Hamilton thing probably should have come here, because other than that, I don’t put a lot of stock in nominations, awards, and things of that ilk  The most significant achievement is that people seem to like what Max Allan Collins and I do enough to keep offering us contracts  I haven’t had a day job for twenty-one years. I’m proud of that. I get to do what I love for a living, and I don’t have to wear a watch.

Cathy: The publishing industry is undergoing so much change. From your perspective as someone with a long-time career, do you have any insights or truths to hold onto for those who may be just starting out or are not too far along on the journey?

Matthew: Insights? I wish. I would use them myself. The industry is undergoing tectonic changes  It will be a different world in another ten years, maybe even sooner. What that means to beginners is more opportunities. I would dearly LOVE to be a beginning writer today. There are so many more storytelling venues than even when I started in 1992. The Internet is the final frontier. No wait, maybe it’s television, no wait, video games. There are more storytelling platforms than ever, and they all need content. I’m not a novelist, someday I may not even be a writer, but what I will always be, in some form, is a storyteller.

Advice:  NEVER give up. Grow dinosaur skin. Remember it’s never personal, even when it is to you, and write the next thing.  ALWAYS write the next thing.

Cathy:  I am hooked on your daily Facebook manifestos, the Matthew Clemens equivalent of “Seize the Day.” I’m wondering if those posts were designed to work into your “marketing strategy,” are just for fun, or what purpose they may serve for you? Has the number of FB followers changed because of those? I tried to find you on Twitter and wasn’t sure which one you are. How do you feel about Twitter?

Matthew: My note for the day has nothing to do with marketing strategy, I’m not that smart. Steve Brewer does his Rules For Successful Living, then when he gets enough, he puts out a book  I’m not even that smart. It started with me having a bad day and I fired off a letter to a particularly lowly Friday. Then did another when Saturday didn’t live up to expectations, then before I knew it people were telling me they were reading them every day and sending them to friends. There was a brief period where I tried to be clever. Stopped that and went back to just writing whatever pops into my brain. So, yeah, the number of FB fans has grown slightly, but it ebbs and flows. Sometimes what pops into my brain are swear words, and that will drive some people away. No harm, no foul. I am not for all tastes there, but my page, my rules. In the real world, I’m learning to be a bit more genteel.

As to Twitter, I use it when I remember, but 140 characters? Please, it takes me a thousand words to say hello.

Cathy: Tell us a little about how your intensive will work. Will there be writing exercises? What do you hope that people will take away? Do you have a favorite short session you’re presenting that attendees should be sure to attend? (I know, all of them! haha)

Matthew: The intensive workshop will be LOTS of writing. I’m a believer in writers write and sweat equity.  There’s no writer’s block, there’s no “I’m just not feeling it,” none of that. We’re going to work hard that day because that’s the JOB. Not the hobby, not the fun time…okay, that’s a lie, it’s all fun time, but we will write.

What do I hope people will take away? That this is a hard job, that it’s time consuming, that it’s a pain in the backside sometimes, but that they can do it, too. That they have to believe in themselves, in their talent, and in their desire. There’s a lot of rejection in this business, but if you’re willing to endure it, the rewards are…magical. More than anything else, go away with the knowledge, the belief, that good writing sells.

Do I have a favorite session? Like any good parent, I love all my sessions fervently and equally.

Cathy:  Is there something you wish you had known earlier in your career? What is the best advice you’ve ever been given about writing?

Matthew: I wish I had known EVERYTHING earlier in my career. I wish I had trusted myself enough to go to college to be a writer. I’m late to the party. I attended my first conference at thirty-one  I turned pro at thirty-five. What kept me from feeling that I was horribly behind everyone else was that Raymond Chandler was forty-five before he got published and it seemed to work out for him. This isn’t just publishing, this is what I wish I had known earlier in life. You can be anything you want, if you’re willing to work harder at it than you have anything else. Best advice I ever got, I heard wrong. Karl and Max both told me early on, “Don’t quit your day job.” Ever the editor, I stopped listening at don’t quit  So, that’s my advice…DON’T QUIT!

Cathy: Would you like to add anything else to share with our readers?

Matthew: Do I have anything to add? For the first-time attendees: Don’t panic. Breathe. There’s plenty of time, really. Be patient. Did I mention don’t panic? There will be a time toward the end of the weekend when your brain locks. DON’T PANIC. Happens to everyone. You will still learn. You might even do what I did after my first conference. I went home, brain completely fried. Convinced myself I hadn’t learned anything, just too much stuff in too short a time. Then, a couple weeks later, while writing, I did something I couldn’t have done before the conference. It was like the sky opened up and the sun came out. Just remember, the first time, in most things, is the hardest. Come, sit, write, share. Some of the others don’t even bite. Just know, we’re all sitting in the same pew here, and you are welcome.

*****

Matthew’s Part I session is:

Researching and Writing the Mystery/Suspense/Thriller Thing — This interactive session, with a focus on craft, will touch on the differences in genres, the elements of plot, character development, dialogue, writing stronger sentences, and the building and acceleration of suspense. We will discuss many aspects of the writing process from getting ideas to building them into a saleable novel. The only pre-class assignment is to watch the film “Jaws.”

Last week to still sign up for just Part I and take Matthew’s class!

Matthew’s Part II sessions include:

  • Two Paths to a Common Goal (with John Gilstrap). No two writers follow the same path to success. In fact, even the definition of “success” is hard to nail down. John Gilstrap and Matthew Clemens came at the challenge from entirely different directions. In this session, they’ll talk about their respective journeys – the successes and the failures. And they’ll answer any questions you may have about what works and what doesn’t.
  • Dialog: It’s Not Just He Said, She Said. This session will assist you in the writing of realistic dialog and building a scene around what is far more than just the conversation.
  • Character: It’s More than Just a Name on the Page.This session is devoted to creating and developing characters that live on the page, as well as in our mind.  We’ll work on building characters that will stick with the reader even after the book is finished.

Interview with author D.E. Johnson

DE JohnsonD.E. (Dan) Johnson, a graduate of Central Michigan University, is a history buff who has been writing fiction since childhood but had to hit his midlife crisis to get serious about it. His first novel, a historical mystery entitled The Detroit Electric Scheme, was published in 2010 by St. Martin’s Minotaur Books. The Detroit Electric Scheme was named one of Booklist’s Top Ten First Crime Novels of the Year and also won a 2011 Michigan Notable Book Award. Motor City Shakedown, the sequel to The Detroit Electric Scheme, was named one of the Top 5 Crime Novels of 2011 by The House of Crime and Mystery, called “extraordinarily vivid” by The New York Times, and won a 2012 Michigan Notable Book Award. Dan’s third book, Detroit Breakdown, was published in September, 2012 by St. Martin’s Minotaur Books. It was named to the best crime novels list for 2012 by multiple publications. Book four,The Detroit Shuffle, continuing the adventures of Will and Elizabeth into the world of political corruption, will be published in fall 2013 by St. Martin’s Minotaur Books.

MWW committee member Linda Taylor interviewed Dan for this week’s newsletter.

Linda: You say in your bio that a “midlife crisis” got you started writing. Many of our attendees are in their midlife. What encouragement can you give older writers about following their dreams even at this time of life?

Dan: Like most MWW attendees, I was one of those kids who thought about trying to be a professional writer, but by the time I was ready to graduate from high school I had become convinced by my elders that it wasn’t practical. (BTW, even in my fifties I’m not saying that it is, but we don’t do this because of practicality.) I spent 25 years doing work I didn’t enjoy, and even though the rest of my life was grand, I was miserable.

My wife and I had always told our girls to try to live their dreams. I was the example of the one who never did. Finally, at 47 years old, I stopped working for two years and dove headfirst into writing. I knew I had a limited window, so I worked like crazy, hoping I could get a good book contract before I had to find another job. As it worked out, I was offered my first book contract by St. Martin’s Press about a year after I started looking for a job. (And it was a good thing I had found one, because that six-figure advance didn’t materialize like I had planned!)

It’s never too late. That’s one of the beauties of writing. We can do this until our minds are so feeble we can’t pick up a pencil. Perhaps by then software will be able to read our minds so that our senseless ravings can be saved for posterity.

Linda: You also say that when you began writing you took classes, read everything you could find, and wrote for hours every day before you hit upon the automotive history crime genre that you write. When did the light bulb go on for you about what you should write about?

Dan: The light bulb turned on one book too late. For some reason, I had a religious satire in my head that had to get out. (And this is from a person who had to get a book contract in two years!) Okay, I know it was a poor choice, but we probably all have a book to get off our chests before we can write something marketable. It turns out I thought I was funnier than I am.

I tried to sell that book and had some interest from agents, but no one was interested enough to give it a try. After a couple of months of depression, I went back to the drawing board. I love history and historical fiction, and I love good crime fiction. I set as my goal writing historical crime in an “E.L. Doctorow and T.C Boyle meet Elmore Leonard and Dennis Lehane” kind of way. (And then Lehane went and started writing historical crime too. Copying me? Someone should investigate.)

Linda: At MWW, you’ll be teaching about writing unforgettable characters and point of view. Who’s your favorite character in your books and why?

Dan: I have to say Elizabeth Hume, my protagonist Will Anderson’s ex-fiancee. Elizabeth has a pretty severe character arc through the books, starting as a heroin addict in The Detroit Electric Scheme and becoming a women’s suffrage leader by Detroit Shuffle (book 4, publishing Sept. 3). She and Will both grew up in privileged households and have had to learn a lot of hard lessons. She’s tough as nails and has even had to kill a few men along the way. It’s been fun to write a really strong female character, or maybe I should say a female character who has grown very strong.

I learned a lot about her writing Detroit Breakdown, because I had to write half the book from her perspective. It gave me a chance to really delve into her mind, which gave me a lot of insight into her character. It’s amazing how much these people will tell us if we listen carefully.

**********

My first MWW was in 2006, two months after I left my job to pursue writing. It was, hands-down, the most useful conference I’ve ever gone to. I learned a great deal about writing and about the industry. I went on to become a MWW Fellow in 2008, where Terry Faherty helped me hone the beginning of my first book, which sold four months later. MWW is the best writers’ conference there is!

Dan’s Part II sessions include:

  • Characters You Can’t Forget – Who have you met in a novel who still seems like a friend-or an enemy? The author who created those characters had a plan and executed it well. Dan will show you how to create believable and compelling characters that draw readers into your stories. This workshop will put you on track to create characters your readers won’t be able to forget.
  • Publishing in a Brave New World Panel: Sarah LaPolla, Roxane Gay, Barb Shoup, Jane Friedman, D.E. Johnson
  • POV – Who’s Telling This Story? – Point of view is one of the most important decisions a writer has to make and can be one of the trickiest to handle. This fast-paced workshop Dan will not only provide the tips and tricks, he will have you writing from a unique point of view before the hour is out.