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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.

Interview with Barbara Shoup

Barb ShoupBarbara Shoup is the author of seven novels and the co-author of two books about the creative process. Her young adult novels, Wish You Were Here and Stranded in Harmony were selected as American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults. Vermeer’s Daughter was a School Library Journal Best Adult Book for Young Adults. She is the recipient of numerous grants from the Indiana Arts Council, two creative renewal grants from the Arts Council of Indianapolis, the 2006 PEN Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship, and the 2012 Eugene and Marilyn Glick Regional Indiana Author Award. Currently, she is the executive director of the Writers’ Center of Indiana. Her most recent novel is An American Tune.

MWW social media intern Rachael Heffner interviewed Barb for this week’s E-pistle.

Rachael: Your intensive at MWW is called Writing YA: Think Like a Teenager. I know you don’t want to give too much away, but can you give one tip on how to “think like a teenager”?

Barbara: That teenage person is still there, inside every one of us. If you’re like me, you can’t help thinking like a teenager, at least some of the time. If you’ve forgotten how to think like a teenager, this workshop will take you right back to that time in your life and put you in touch with the emotional perspective you need to get a YA novel right.

Rachael: You write both YA and adult novels. What’s the biggest difference for you in terms of writing these types of books, or is there a difference?

Barbara: I don’t consciously choose to write one or the other. I write the novels that seem possible to write–some of them are made of ideas that reflect the complexity of adult life; others, the rawness and self-absorption of adolescence. They are equally interesting to me and equally challenging. In several cases, novels that started out as adult novels became YA novels in process when I realized that the strongest voices and most compelling stories were those of the younger characters.

Rachael: You are quite a busy woman. You are Executive Director at the Indiana Writers Center. You’ve just published a new novel called An American Tune. Most writers have to struggle to balance family, work, and writing. How do you do it?

Barbara: I’m extremely fortunate to love everything I do. Everything is of a piece to me and everything feeds my writing, one way or another. Still, it’s a constant struggle to keep everything in balance. Usually I write for a few hours early each morning. Sometimes I escape for a week or so to a quiet place and work nonstop, which is heaven. That said, there are plenty of times when I get overwhelmed and find my real life creeping into the time I need for fiction–which is not a good thing because when I don’t write, I’m just not okay. So I try to catch myself when I feel things getting out of whack. Years ago I read this in a women’s magazine–probably about dieting, but it seemed dead on in terms of everything: “Discipline is remembering what you want.” I want to be a writer, so I choose it whenever I can. Slowly, the pages pile up.

Barb’s Part II sessions (Friday and Saturday) include:

  • The Particular Problems of Critiquing and Revising the Novel. Whether you work with a critique partner or regularly submit your novel to a workshop group, the process of critiquing a novel is completely different from critiquing a short story. Novels take a long time to write, they change as you write them, it’s hard to hold them in your head. And when you finally finish that first draft, how in the world are you supposed to look at it? This class will provide practical strategies for getting the useful insights from your readers, identifying problems in your novel, and creating a list of very specific issues you need to address to bring it closer to the novel you want it to be.
  • Historical Fiction. Would you like to live in another time, by way of writing fiction?  This class will provide an overview of the practical considerations of writing historical fiction, addressing such questions as: Where do you start? How do you keep your research from overwhelming the story? How true to the historical facts must you remain? How can you create characters true to the standards and knowledge of their time? And more.
  • Publishing in a Brave New World Panel: Sarah LaPolla, Roxane Gay, Barb Shoup, Jane Friedman, D.E. Johnson

Interview with MWW fave John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of nine thrillers, the latest of which is Damage Control. His previous books include Threat Warning, Hostage Zero, No Mercy, Six Minutes to Freedom, Scott Free, Even Steven, At All Costs, and Nathan’s Run; four have been Literary Guild selections. His novels have been translated into more than 20 languages.

For MWW13, John will present “Writing Commercial Fiction,” as well as sessions on writing a series and suspense writing. MWW committee member Cathy Shouse interviewed John about his MWW appearances and his writing career.

Q.  How many times have you been on the MWW faculty? Any special memories you’d like to share? Mine would be MWW 2010 when you and Marcus Sakey did a rowdy, memorable “secrets to getting published” session. Finally, how has being on MWW faculty impacted your career?

MWW is one of my favorite conferences.  How many have I been to?  At least three, I think, but there might have been a fourth a long time ago.  (That would actually make it the first, wouldn’t it?  Ah, well . . .)

I agree that that session with Marcus was a highlight. Not just because he’s a great guy and a brilliant writer, but because the entire session was ad-libbed.  The writer he was originally paired with that day suffered a family emergency and had to back out at the last minute.  I was asked to pinch-hit, and was more than happy to step in.  The timing was such, though, that Marcus and I had no time to compare notes or choreograph anything.  Since we’re both comfortable in front of an audience, we decided to wing it, and it ended up going really, really well.

Truthfully, I enjoy every aspect of the conference, from teaching the sessions to critiquing manuscripts.

Q. As a New York Times Bestselling author, you must have had many high points in your career. What’s been your favorite award/recognition/memory?

Probably my most significant pinch-me moment came when my family and I were invited to Dino DeLaurentiis’s 80th birthday party on the Isle of Capri in Italy. There we were on Dino’s boat on a beautiful day, swimming off the side in the Mediterranean. That was pretty special. Most special of all, of course–and I think this is probably true of most novelists–is that first phone call telling me that my agent had sold my first book.  It felt every bit like the new beginning that it turned out to be.

Q. Catch us up with the latest– what you’re working on now, releases, etc.

HIGH TREASON, the fifth book in my Jonathan Grave series will come out next summer, and right now, I am working on two projects within the same series.  One is the sixth book, as yet untitled, and barely even plotted, but first there’ll be an e-book novella that will chronicle how Jonathan Grave and Irene Rivers–the director of the FBI in the series–first met.

Q. What are some advantages for pre-published and published authors to attend conferences? How did conferences influence your writing, if you attended any before publication?

I didn’t even know there were such things as writers’ conferences when I was penning the book that became NATHAN’S RUN.  Having been in the biz now for over 15 years, I think that conferences can be extremely valuable to writers of all stripes and at all stages in their careers.  The trick to learning from sessions and panels is to listen with an open yet skeptical mind.  This is a creative business, which by definition means that there are no rules for storytelling.  What works for me may have no value to another writer, because we all sift our stories through the filters of our own imaginations.  It’s important to take from any session that which resonates, and to feel free to reject that which does not resonate.

From the business side of writing (as opposed to the artistic side), the best value comes from time around the bar.  Like any other industry, this is a business of networking and contacts.  All else being equal, the chances of success increase dramatically with each new contact you make.

Q. One year, you shared with our attendees the downside of getting a large advance. How do insider tips and knowledge of how publishing works help a writer?

Quoting from that cinematic masterpiece, ANIMAL HOUSE, “Knowledge is Good.”  Many new writers make the mistake of believing that their aspirations begin and end with the creation of a work.  The reality is that our little corner of the entertainment business is exactly that–a business.  It makes no more sense to enter into a book contract without knowing about the publishing industry than it would to open a restaurant without researching the food service industry.  Authors walk into traps every day–willingly, it seems–with their eyes closed.  Standard book contracts are predatory and awful.  It takes a good agent or a lawyer to cut through the crap to give the author a chance of success.

I advise writers to assume that their novel is their million-dollar retirement plan, and to perform all the due diligence research for a book sale that they would do to invest in any other business.

Q. Is there something about a writing career that you wish you had known sooner?

I was surprised how isolating it is.  Not only is a book produced in solitude, there are precious few people in any one community to talk to about it.  In fact, more than a few people are put off by the fact of one’s being a professional writer.  At one level, I think that everyone believes they could write a book if only they could carve out the time to do so. It’s not until they give it a shot that they realize how damn difficult it can be. Eight years ago, I became so frustrated by the isolation that I went back to a high-pressure day job. To date, I am the only artist I know who walked away from full-time writing to go back to the daily grind. Curiously, I’m more prolific as a part-time author than I ever was a full-time author. Go figure.

Q. Is there anything you would like to add?

Just that I’m looking forward to another July in Muncie!

****

John’s quote from MWW 2010…”Over the years, I’ve participated in more conferences than I can count, but time after time, Midwest Writers Workshop ranks among the best of the best. The students are anxious to learn, the faculty comes to teach, and the result is electrifying. Anytime you want me back, just say the word, and I’m there.”

DID YOU KNOW??

John’s first Jonathan Grave novel, No Mercy, mentions Muncie, Indiana??

Jonathan Grave has an extraordinary job. He covertly rescues people. Moreover, he operates under his own system of justice. He does not go out of his way to abuse or kill people, but when he deems it necessary he does so without qualms. He does not so much operate in defiance of the police but rather, since his objectives are different, outside it. If it is necessary for some people to die in order that those objectives be fulfilled so be it.

For his services Jonathan is well paid. He has some military experience which is useful in developing rescue plans and he has connections which allow him to literally fly beneath the radar. He has handpicked his assistants, most notably, Venice (pronounced Ven EE chay) Alexander whose computer skills know no limit.

In this endeavor, Jonathan has been hired to find and rescue Thomas Hughes, the college age son of Stephenson Hughes. Thomas was abducted from his girlfriend’s home in Muncie, Indiana.

 

Interview with agent JL Stermer

Meet JL Stermer!

Introducing another New York agent you can pitch to if you register for Part II of Midwest Writers Workshop:

StermerJL Stermeris an agent in the literary division of talent agency N.S. Bienstock. She is currently seeking both fiction and nonfiction. On the fiction side, she’d love to see both commercial and literary fiction as well as graphic novels. On the nonfiction side, she is looking for cookbooks and food-related narratives, prescriptive health, diet, and fitness, how-to, reference, narrative nonfiction, current events-related projects and all things pop-culture (science, business, technology, art, music, humor, crafts, DIY.)

Always looking for fresh and exciting projects, JL brings her enthusiasm to clients while helping them navigate the world of book publishing. From spotting trends, to finding the right editorial match for a project, she takes pride in being involved with her clients every step of the way. JL also teaches a class at the Gotham Writers Workshop: How to Get Published. Prior to joining N.S. Bienstock, she was an agent at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Born and raised in New York City, and a graduate of Columbia University, she currently resides in Manhattan solidifying that she is forever a city girl through and through.

Q: What are you looking for right now and not getting?

I’d love to see some fiction that reflects some of today’s more interesting “reality” projects … a protagonist who is:

….a judge (or contestant or a behind-the-scenes staff member) on a talent/food/addiction/fashion/weight-loss show

….on the front lines of current political revolutions/weather disasters/culture wars

….a social media developer/maven

…basically I am looking for any characters we might see in our daily lives (in all forms of media) and think: “I wonder what their days are like?”

In nonfiction, I am always looking for people with fresh twists on ideas that have been strong sellers in pop science, food, technology, health, diet, exercise. Nonfiction’s greatest hits!

Q: What’s your best piece(s) of advice?

One of the things I stress in the classes I teach at Gotham Writers Workshop is persistence. When submitting query letters persistence is key, but authors must be smart about their approach as well.  Make sure you have a well-curated list of agents you are going to query. Make sure they are truly a good fit for you. Keep meticulous notes during the process. And if you get any constructive criticism–do not be defensive and shrug it off–see if you can use it to make your pitch better. So many people give up after a few rejections. Keep the process moving by honing your letter as well as your manuscript/book proposal. And stay positive!! This is a hard one, I know, but bitter and frustrated authors send out that vibe and I can always sense it–in person and even in query letters…you are selling your project, sell it with a smile on your face.

Q:  How do you think attending a writing conference and speaking with you personally helps an author seeking representation and have you found some of your clients at writing conferences?

Attending a conference helps make it “real” for so many people. For the many writers who are cocooned in their own worlds, oftentimes this is the first chance they get to really identify as an author–to meet an agent, give their pitch and take that step into the business side of writing. I like to think I give authors confidence and inspiration (even if I am offering a critique). I try to take the scary element out of the equation by answering questions and being an attentive listener. As to clients, I do have a handful who I have met at writer’s conferences, but most of them are still works-in-progress. I have faith in them!

Q. In addition to the above, please be specific about the fiction you are seeking, to include whether you represent category romance, thrillers, and women’s fiction?

I am not looking for category romance. My colleague Paul Fedorko is always looking for a great thriller (WWII stories are his go-to favorite) so I am always happy to pass something great to him. And as for women’s fiction, yes please. Commercial and up market are welcome and I am very open regarding topic. As long as I am connecting with a distinctive voice and feel invested in a complex protagonist, I will follow her anywhere.

Q. What are some insider tips for making a successful pitch to you and how should someone who did not get an official pitch session approach you (if you are okay with that)?

One of the most important things is to take a deep breath and smile. Try to shake those nerves when you sit down for a one-on-one. Having your pitch be concise is important–you don’t have a lot of time to get it all in. I’d like to meet the protagonist right away as well as a few secondary characters, but not too many. If you try to cover everyone, you run the risk of losing me as I try to keep up with you…

As far as approaching me outside of an official pitch session, I’m okay with this but I’d rather not be pitched in the bathroom (!) or while I am chatting with another person. Other than that–that’s why I am here, to meet everyone and see if I can find a good match!

“Terry Faherty helped hone my first book”

Meet Terence Faherty!

In our last E-pistle, D.E. (Dan) Johnson praised Terry Faherty for his mentoring help on the first chapters of his historical mystery, The Detroit Electric Scheme. “I become a MWW Fellow in 2008,” said Dan, “where Terry Faherty helped me hone the beginning of my first book, which sold four months later. MWW works!”

That’s what Terry does: encourage, instruct, and provide direction for improving and selling your writing. He’s been a MWW supporter for many years, participating in our Writers’ Retreat and mini-conferences. If you want to learn how to develop a well-structured plot, sign up for Terry’s Writing the Mystery – Idea to Plot to Story.  (Short assignments included!)

FahertyTerence Faherty is the author of two mystery series. The Scott Elliott private eye series is set in the golden age of Hollywood and is a two-time winner of the Shamus Award, given by the Private Eye Writers of America. The Owen Keane series, which follows the adventures of a failed seminarian turned metaphysical detective, has been nominated twice for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award.  His short fiction, which appears regularly in mystery magazines and anthologies, has won the Macavity Award from Mystery Readers International.

Terry had two new titles in 2011, both in the Elliott series. Dance In The Dark, his eleventh novel, was published by Five Star and is set in 1969.  Perfect Crime Books released a collection of the Elliott stories entitled The Hollywood Op, which contains all the Elliott short stories published to date, including the Shamus winner “The Second Coming.” In 2012, a new Owen Keane novel, Eastward In Eden, will be published by the Mystery Company.

Q. What accomplishment or achievement are you most proud of as an author? What has been the most satisfying aspect of getting published?

DeadstickI don’t think any accomplishment has meant as much to me as the sale of my first novel, Deadstick, not even my first short story sale a few years earlier, though I can still picture the room where I was standing when I was notified by phone that the story had been accepted.  I heard about the Deadstick sale over the phone, too, and disappointed my editor-to-be with my low-keyed reaction (though I was shouting on the inside).  She kidded me for years about my first words, claiming they were “that’s nice” or something equally intense.

The most satisfying aspect of being published has always been the feedback from readers.  Writing without publishing can feel like launching notes in bottles:  an endless series of messages and no replies. Hearing from someone who’s read you and who appreciates what you’re trying to do is a really wonderful thing.

Q. Please explain how attending writing workshops influenced your career (if it did).

I attended a series of evening workshops given by the Writers Center of Indianapolis after graduating from college and really profited from the feedback from my teachers and fellow writers, though I was sometimes self-conscious about being the only mystery writer in a room of literary writers.  Later, the Writers Center sponsored a program by four touring mystery writers and that turned out to be one of the most significant days of my life.  I made important professional connections that day (and three friendships that I still value).  After hearing those four speak, I was never again embarrassed about being a “mere” mystery writer.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your journey to publication: when and what you first began to write, when you began submitting, to when you received your first contract.

I’ve been telling stories all my life, and writing them as soon as I could write-my earliest surviving manuscript is from the sixth grade.  (It’s a mystery.)  I wrote for and edited my high school and college literary magazines and began sending short stories out shortly after I graduated.  I have rejection slips from the 1970s from Redbook, Atlantic Monthly, and Ellery Queen, among others.  (Luckily, Queen later changed its mind about me.)  My first story sale came about five years after graduation (after the workshops described above) and my first book sale about ten years after that.  All that time, I was working as a technical writer, which did a lot to knock the curlicues off my prose style.

Q. What should writers expect from your intensive workshop and what would authors who don’t write your genre benefit from your session as well?

Writers should expect too much information in too short a time. I would hope they’d come away with some new thoughts on the mystery story that might help them see the potential of it and one or two suggestions about the craft of writing that might help them move their ideas from jottings in a journal to completed manuscripts. I also hope the participants come away with the sense that they’re part of a larger writing community that supports and values their efforts.

Q. What is the best advice on writing that you were ever given, and what is something you wish you had known sooner?

Best advice:  Maintain good relations with your editors.  They’re your first fans and your champions within the publishing world.  Listen to what they say with both ears and chose your inevitable battles carefully.

What I wish I’d known sooner:  Don’t quit your day job, not until your writing income has forced you to seek out tax shelters.

Note: Terry’s Part II Sessions:

  • I’ll Wait to See the Movie – How to use screenwriting techniques to improve the pacing and structure of your book and your chances of selling it.
  • Writing the Period Mystery – A discussion of how to bring to life a historical period through your fiction.  Although aimed specifically at mystery writing, these techniques can be applied to any type of historical writing.
  • Two for the Price of One –  A discussion of the two stories in every mystery, the hidden story and the open story, and how understanding their relationship can make your idea development easier and your plotting more effective.