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Gold medal for MWW16!

Your evaluations, emails, tweets, posts have been read and tallied. The results are in!

The determination: gold medal for MWW16!

Sure, we weren’t perfect. We had a few deductions to our final score (parking, construction, A/C), but we received more high scores than low. And for our first year in a new facility, we were darn pleased that participants and faculty had a great time. The high marks included: our “killer deal,” 10+ for our social media tutoring, our spiral bound book of session notes, and 10+10 for our unique “Buttonhole the Experts” activity.

Comments in the hallways included: “I loved the diversity of topics and speakers/presenters.” “I met life-long friends here!” “AMAZING conference! Life-changing! I plan to be back!”

From July 21-23, a record-breaking 280 people who are passionate about writing — participants, faculty, interns, MWW staff — occupied the three floors of our new location at the L.A. Pittenger Student Center to listen, talk, write, share, pitch, question, eat, drink, laugh, challenge, commiserate — and, yes, rejoice.

From the ten intensive sessions of Part I to the 45 sessions of Part II, MWW16 offered participants opportunities to “find their tribe” and enjoy a genuine community which encouraged them to make connections and get to the next step in their writing. And what other writers’ conference provides a chance to bowl with a literary agent (or a T-Rex) and a massage therapist to relax you before your pitch?

Something special marked this 43rd annual workshop and these are some of the comments which pointed in this direction.

From the participants:

 “Thank you for helping me to pursue my life-long dream! You guys rock! You’re amazing!”

“In a solitary profession like writing, it’s sometimes difficult to connect with peers – or even realize that you have any. At MWW, I realized that the literary world is both large and small: there are many of us who come from across the country, but we are a tight knit group, bound by our mutual respect, appreciation, and encouragement of one another. I was expecting a community of writers at this conference – but I was not met. I was welcomed. – Valerie Weingart

“It was worth the trip from North Carolina! I’m going home with information and inspiration to aid my writing.” – Rebecca Paynter

“This was my first writers’ conference. MWW truly delivered on their promises. I  feel much more prepared to begin a writing career, and the atmosphere was perfect for connecting with so many amazing writers, authors, agents, and other members of the writing community. I am excited already for MWW 2017!” – Mary Rose Kreger

“Great content. Great community.” – Bo Thunboe

“Writing can be a lonely pursuit. The opportunity to find your tribe and make connections with other introverts tied to their computers was wonderful.” – Mary Robertson

“When you are stuck and alone in your writing journey, MWW will give you the kick in the pants you need. Stop wallowing and come find your people.” – Elizabeth Newman

“MWW is so inclusive of all writers’ wants and needs — topics, events, activities. This has been the best conference ever!” – Doris Smith

“As a young writer, this conference provided access to a variety of topics. I met other writers who immediately treated me with kindness and made me hopeful.” – Sarah Salow

From the faculty:

“Midwest Writers Workshop is a very special place for writers. I’ve been speaking and attending its sessions for nearly 15 years, and the sense of community and support is outstanding. It has played a role in launching numerous successful author careers-unsurprising, since it works so thoughtfully to fulfill its mission of helping writers flourish and be their best selves.” – Jane Friedman

“I’ll go just about anywhere to talk about the agony and ecstasy of writing fiction, but I’ve found the standard of excellence against which all writers conferences will be measured: the Midwest Writers Workshop in the Ball State University campus in Muncie, Indiana. Not only is the hospitality without peer, the staff is professional, the participants lively and whip-smart, the faculty engaging and edifying. Wanna believe that people still love to write and read? Come to Muncie!” – Tom Williams

“Please, please invite me to speak every year from now until infinity.” – Jen Malone

“Midwest Writers Workshop is the best workshop in the Midwest for writers no matter whether they are beginners or seasoned pros. The success stories are countless, and there’s a reason why.  This workshop is all about the writer from the moment the first sentence is written until the last goodbye is said.  It’s a five star event that prepares great writers to go out into the world and share their stories at the highest level.  I count this workshop as one of the main reasons that I have published twelve novels.” – Larry Sweazy

“It was a pleasure. And I already got a client out of it! I signed Jessica Rauh who I met in a pitch session!” – Jim McCarthy

Congratulations to the 2016 Manny Award winners! (and thanks to sponsor Matthew V. Clemens and Robin Vincent Publishing)

midwestwriters2016_web-100

Irene Fridsma – Poetry

Paula Mikrut - Nonfiction

Paula Mikrut – Nonfiction

Victor Suthammanont - Long Fiction

Victor Suthammanont – Long Fiction

Kathryn Page Camp - Short Fiction & winner of the Top Prize L. Karl Largent Award

Kathryn Page Camp – Short Fiction & winner of the Top Prize L. Karl Largent Award

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irene Fridsma – Poetry

Paula Mikrut – Nonfiction

Victor Suthammanont – Long Fiction

Kathryn Page Camp – Short Fiction & winner of the Top Prize L. Karl Largent Award

 

***

MWW16 may be in our rear view mirrors, but a lot of what we experienced and learned will always remain. We invite you to view our  Photo Gallery and tag yourself on our Facebook Page, which are sure to bring back memories.

So we’re patting ourselves on the back. And for just a while, basking in the bright light that was #mww16 before we move on to our 44th MWW, July 20-22, 2017.

Q&A with thriller author Matthew V. Clemens

ClemensLong-time MWW attendee, faculty, and board member Matthew V. Clemens, with his collaborator, Max Allan Collins, has penned 17 TV tie-in novels including  CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, Dark Angel, Bones,  and  Criminal Minds. Twilight Tales published the pair’s collected short stories in  My Lolita Complex and Other Tales of Sex and Violence. They also have authored thrillers — You Can’t Stop Me, No One Will Hear You, What Doesn’t Kill Her, and  Supreme Justice for Thomas & Mercer. Fate of the Union was released in November 2015, and the next Reeder and Rogers thriller is due this year. A resident of Davenport, Iowa, Matthew can’t quite recall if he first discovered MWW in 1990 or ’91, but he’s attended every conference since. Matthew’s high regard and affection for MWW is mutual, and we look forward to welcoming him back to Muncie for his 25th (or is it his 26th?) conference this July.

MWW committee member Janis Thornton won the lottery, and her interview with Matthew follows.

MWW: You identify author R. Karl Largent (a frequent MWW faculty member until he died in 2003) as a writing mentor, who greatly influence your writing. (1) What other MWW faculty have made a positive impact on your career? (2) What were the most inspiring and helpful insights they taught you about writing? (3) How have you applied them to your writing over the years? (4) How do you incorporate those lessons into your workshops and pass them on to your attendees?

MC: 1) Holy frijoles, all of them. I’ve met amazing people, legends, at MWW since my first conference in 1991. Joyce Carol Oates, George Plimpton, William Brashler, Donald E. Westlake. So many people that I read when I was learning. More recently, I have learned a ton from John Gilstrap, William Kent Krueger, and Julie Hyzy, in particular. You never know enough about storytelling. I don’t care who you are, and the moment you stop learning is the moment you begin to wither.

2) I have no real idea how to answer this. Every insight is helpful in some way. Karl taught me PYAITCAW — Plant Your Ass In The Chair And Write. That, more than any other tidbit is the one that has kept me going. I’ve learned to write tight, to get in and get out, and a thousand other bits that are all part of the process.

3) This is a weird one. Some lessons you know right away — okay, I can use that, I can do this step better because I’ve learned this tip. But I remember after my very first writers’ conference that I went home annoyed, thinking I hadn’t learned much. Then, about a month later, I wrote something that made me just stop as I realized that before the conference there was no way I could have written that piece, that paragraph, even that sentence.

 These tips we learn, they all go into the simmering soup that is our creative brain, and we may not even know they’re there, like bay leaves, but sooner or later they surface and you understand how important these little bay leaves of knowledge are to what you’re trying to accomplish. Not everything is cayenne pepper and immediately noticeable, but it is all part of the whole.

4) My first conference as a student was 1987, so almost thirty years of learning to tell a story as well as I can, the last twenty-four as a professional and I still feel there’s so much to learn, but when I teach, I try to bring up as much of what I’ve learned as I can. You throw it all out there and some of it will stick in this person’s brain, some totally different item will be important to someone else. It boils down to teachable moments and hearing the thing you need when you’re ready to hear it. Writing is not a destination; it’s a journey. The sooner you understand that, the easier it is to accept that not everything you do is perfect, or even good sometimes, but you keep at it, you keep learning, and you get better.

MWW: You met your favorite author, Max Allan Collins, at a 1987 writers’ conference, when you were still a budding writer. At that event, Collins told you that your writing had possibilities. Just five years later, you sold your first short story and quit your day job. To top it off, before the decade ended, Collins had become your writing partner. So the burning question is: What did you do after 1987 to hone the writing skills that helped you land a partnership with Collins.

MC: I wrote every day. I read every day. Then eventually, I started working as a freelance editor. Along the way, I met Pat Gipple and we collaborated on Dead Water: The Klindt Affair. That was a true crime book about a murder in our hometown. In doing that, I met some police investigators who became friends. About that time, Max and I started writing short stories together and looking for something we could do in a novel format. When he was offered the tie-in gig doing novels for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, he called me and asked if my cop contacts would help us get the forensics right. I sat down with a crime scene investigator I knew who fed us the correct science, and Max and I ended up doing ten novels, four graphic novels, and short stories for eight CSI jigsaw puzzles and even designed the story for a CSI: Miami computer game. Our collaboration has continued, and now I’m putting the finishing touches on my draft of our twenty-fourth novel.

MWW: When did fiction thrillers and true crime first draw you in as an author? What about them attracted you?

MC: I started reading mysteries in grade school. First, it was Donald Sobel’s Encyclopedia Brown series, then I skipped the Hardy Boys and went straight into what has been a lifelong love of Sherlock Holmes. As both reader and writer, I am attracted to seeing justice meted out, and as I have gotten older, I’m interested in trying to understand what makes people capable of the cruelty we inflict on one another. There is always a conflict of some sort to be resolved, and honestly, I like to see the good guys win.

MWW: Just as your books thrill readers, whose books thrill you?

MC: So many authors, so many good books. Because of my schedule, I tend to read my friends. I love Gilstrap, Hyzy, and Krueger. I’m late to the party on people like Johnny Shaw, Sean Chercover, and Lou Berney, but they’re all great, too. A lot of what I read is in my capacity as a consulting editor. Some of my clients are published, some not, but I read a lot of good books that way, too.

MWW: Your intensive workshop, “Making Your Thriller Thrilling,” promises to reveal steps for writing a suspenseful thriller: characters, settings, building suspense, incorporating other ingredients such as humor. What do you want your attendees to know before they step into your classroom?

MC: You need to know we’re going to write in class. Writers write. I’ll talk a lot, but we learn this craft by doing, so we’re going to spend time writing and talking about what we’ve written. I would love them to all take a couple of hours before class to watch “Jaws.” That movie is a great tool for learning how to create suspense, and how to use humor to break tension.

MWW: And now, before we close, I’d like to offer you the last word — perhaps you’d like to share a tidbit of insight to put attendees at ease, or maybe you’d rather ramp up the tension with some intrigue. It’s up to you, Matthew!

MC: Put my attendees at ease? I’m going to make someone cry. Happens every year. I have a streak to protect. Seriously, we’re going to have fun, we’re going to work hard, and if this works like it should, we will all learn something new. Even when leading a seminar, I learn something too. Storytelling is a vast art form, and there are as many ways to do it, as there are people who imagine telling a story. What I will do is pass along what I’ve learned, and what has kept me afloat in an ever-changing publishing world for the last quarter century.

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

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.

How to market yourself at writers’ conferences

Marketing yourself 

Stanley_Kelly photoKelly O’Dell Stanley had big plans for her life — study to be an architect, live in a big city, never have children. Now — as a resident of Crawfordsville, Indiana — she just celebrated 21 years in business for herself as a graphic designer. She works from home with her three kids and husband, leaving her desk just long enough to cheer for them from the bleachers with laptop beside her. And you know what? It’s better than anything she once imagined. At some point along the way, she discovered that writing fulfilled her need to create, and now she is waiting for her first book, The Art of Praying Upside Down, to be released by Tyndale Momentum in 2015. Visit prayingupsidedown.com or find her on Facebook or Twitter (@kellyostanley).

Marketing is about communicating the value of a product of service. As a writer, you have the job of promoting yourself — and it is never too early to start. With MWW14 only three months away, this is an ideal time to begin.

The first step is thinking about how to position yourself. What do you want people to know about you? What genre(s) do you write? Do you want to promote a specific book or topic or blog or do you want to simply be known as a writer?

I’m going to pause here for a second. If you have trouble calling yourself a writer — something nearly every one of us has struggled with at some point — practice now. A writer is, simply, one who writes. You are not an imposter, even if you’ve never had a word published. Even if you are just starting out. If it makes you feel better, save the term “author” for when your work has been published. But you are on your way to a writing workshop, so you’re investing your time and money, which tells me writing is important to you. Calling yourself a writer is the fastest way to make yourself — and then others — truly believe it.

But don’t stop there. Think of yourself as a brand, like Target or Nike or Starbucks. When I mentioned those names, I bet you pictured their logos. If you see big red dots on a white background, you think Target. See a swoosh on a shoe or t-shirt and you think Nike. See a round green symbol and instantly crave caffeine.

One reason these brands are so recognizable is because they’ve presented themselves in a consistent way. They’ve used colors, icons, fonts, and a certain style of images to show who they are. And we remember. Granted, you and I don’t have the same kind of budgets, and our product may not be as desirable to the general public. But especially when you’re starting to build your own brand, when you’re seeking name recognition, consistency is the key.

A great place to start building your brand is with a business card.

You don’t have to spend big money. You can print cards at home, but usually those aren’t the same quality as the ones printed professionally. I’m a graphic designer, so I design my own cards, but I print them through online printing companies* because they’re fast, high quality, and inexpensive. (Seriously — you can get 250 full color, professionally printed cards for as little as $15.) But even if you aren’t (or don’t know) a designer, you can work with the templates online to put together a professional-looking image. Some offer folded cards, rounded corners, two-sided printing, unusual sizes, multiple images on the backs, or even printing on plastic. Take advantage of whatever size or effect makes sense for what you write. And make sure to include all relevant contact info (phone, email, website, blog, social media handles).

Please plan to bring plenty of cards with you in July. There will be around 235 attendees this year — plus authors, agents, editors, committee members, and interns. That’s a lot of people who care about writing. Make it your goal to hand out 100 cards. (Or 250!) It’s not about finding people who can do something for your career. It’s about building relationships, making friends—and letting the magic inherent in these connections work for you.

I’ve attended MWW six times and met some truly amazing people. I’ve connected with successful writers who have been willing to share their tips with me. Editors who asked me to submit articles. People who have invited me to write guest blogs. But the most valuable thing of all, the reason I recommend this conference far and wide, is this. MWW is where I found a group of close friends who are my biggest cheerleaders, valuable sources of information about this industry, knowledgeable critique partners — and my inspiration. This is where I found community. And it came because I wasn’t afraid to hand out a card, or two, or a hundred — because I genuinely liked the people I met and I wanted to be able to find them again once we left.

MWW will be here before you know it, so give yourself permission to get started. I have a giant stack of business cards sitting here — and I can’t wait to trade for one of yours.

***

A few of my favorite printing sources:

http://www.overnightprints.com
http://us.moo.com
http://www.vistaprint.com
http://www.48hourprint.com
http://www.gotprint.net

 

Becoming a Conscious Reader

Writers don’t simply read for pleasure. We read to become better writers. This is what committee member Cathy Shouse reminds us below.

Cathy Shouse is a journalist who has published hundreds of stories in newspapers and magazines. She is the author of Images of America: Fairmount, and prior to joining the planning committee where she is director of special events, she was named a MWW Fellow in Fiction for her romantic mystery novel. Connect with Cathy on Facebook or on Twitter @cathyshouse on Twitter.

For more on her reading obsession go here.

In looking to manage my money better and improve my health, some experts say that it starts with getting off of autopilot with what you spend and your fitness choices.Cathy

With that in mind, I’ve recently realized the advantages to writers of becoming a conscious reader. The idea came when I taught a college class called Advanced Feature and Magazine Writing. A book called Pulitzer Prize Feature Stories: America’s Best Writing 1979-2003 was suggested as an assigned text to use for the class.

Now, I was no slouch when it came to reading, or so I thought. I had regularly sought out stories in magazines such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic. I would click on the entertainment sections of The New York Times, and read Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair, before his untimely death. For a while, I subscribed to Forbes and read business writing. Having learned that sports writing is considered some of the best in publishing, I read my share of features in Sports Illustrated and even Golf Digest.

But the Pulitzer Prize feature stories I read to prepare for class were beyond exceptional. The vocabulary was rich. The topics were riveting. The writing style was far superior to anything I had read in years — possibly decades — maybe ever. Plus, I was immediately able to incorporate some of these techniques into my own writing. It was as though my writing world had opened up. I looked at every story assignment differently, aiming for more depth. My students began to do the same, as if our collective bar on writing had been immediately raised, with no lecture or Power Point images required.

About the same time, I decided to read Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, a book recommendation that came from an accomplished writer friend. Again, everything from the vocabulary to the theme to the characters was on a higher level from what I had been reading. My mind began to play with concepts that I would have discarded as too complex or not possible for my own fiction writing, before I read that book.

This was somewhat an epiphany. Since becoming a writer, I was told to read — which really meant to continue to read — in my case. And read I have. I simply wish I had been more mindful and had followed a well-thought-out supplemental list of books to broaden my reading experience. In fact, many successful authors have a standard list of writing craft books that they recommend to beginning writers. I’m wondering if it would be good to have specific novels that every writer should read, or at the least, a book list of the exceptional books in one’s chosen genre.

Like the Pulitzer Prize feature articles, these novels would have stood the test of time. I realize the books from the list might not even sell well if introduced today. But books from the list would make one’s own writing better just for having read them.

One of my goals for 2014 is to read some extraordinary books, ones that greatly expand a writer’s mind to explore new avenues and discover mental places unknown. To that end, I plan to read more professional reviews, which can be hard to come by these days. I’ll also look for recommended lists and pay better attention when writers mention books that are special to them.

So, let’s start right here.

What would you include on a list of must-read books for every writer?

What books have made you a better writer?

MWW: Helping writers live a pants-optional lifestyle since 1973

Kelsey Timmerman, a member of the MWW committee, is the author of two books, and the co-founder of The Facing Project, which seeks to connect people through stories to strengthen community.  He met his agent at our summer conference in 2007. You can follow his global writing adventures at his blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.  

I’ve been a committee member of the Midwest Writers Workshop since 2010. I know what you’re thinking: He does it for the groupies and the money.

After all, my boxer shorts have their own Facebook page made by a MWW attendee. But minus my underwear’s 32 virtual fans, alas, there are no groupies.

As for cold hard cash, I and the other committee members are volunteers. We typically meet at least once per month for at least 90 minutes to plan the summer workshop, mini-workshops, and other events. I’m guessing that each of us puts in at least 40+ hours of work each year. If you factor in the hours Jama, our director, works, that number averages out to about 4,000 hours annually. Some of our members drive hours to attend the monthly meetings, others leave work early, and I even put on pants and brush my teeth.

I’m exaggerating a bit. I wear pants and brush my teeth every day. But here’s the thing…I don’t have to. That’s right, I don’t have to go to an office every day. I could live a pants-optional life at home, all thanks to the committee members before me.

In 2007, I attended MWW and I met the agent who sold my first book Where Am I Wearing? That book led to another book Where Am I Eating? Now, between writing and speaking about my writing, I have a full-blown career.

I admit, I think I may have joined the committee to repay this debt, but I soon realized that the members of the committee were driven by much more than a sense of duty. There is something amazing about being a part of the stories of other writers as they seek and succeed at the writing life.

We get emails on a regular basis from folks who’ve seen their writing dreams come true, and credit MWW for helping them. It’s not even the thanks that we do it for.

I think the best thing I can compare the reward of being on the committee to is teaching my daughter to ride a bike, which I did (for the win) on Father’s Day this past year. She never thanked me. She never needed to. Watching her navigate our street through puddles, around potholes, and find that balance and pleasure that comes from reaching her goal was thanks enough.

There are plenty of puddles and potholes on the written road. Just keep pedaling. This is what makes those times when we don’t fall on our face so rewarding.

2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the Midwest Writers’ Workshop, but we are always looking for new ways to help writers. That’s why this blog is about to change.

You are about to see a lot more of us — members of the committee — here. We are poets, fiction writers, nonfiction writers, freelancers, and professors. We write for profession and passion. I’m honored to be on the committee with these folks and I’m eager to read their posts about their writing lives, what happens behind the scenes of our conference, and their tips of the trade.

I think I speak for the entire committee when I say we all want you to write, write better, and enjoy writing more.

I speak for myself when I say, I want you to have a pants-optional life.

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40th Midwest Writers Workshop given “5 Stars!”

What a way to celebrate the 40th Midwest Writers Workshop! At capacity (happily) six weeks before the workshop! First time establishing a waiting list. First time (sadly) turning away writers desperate to attend.

2013-07-26 10.37.07Participants traveled from 20 states, and according to the word eavesdropped in the Conservatory, the Library, Assembly Hall and all corners of the building, never have so many enjoyed so much.

A record-breaking 235 participants crowded into the Alumni Center, July 25-27, to listen, talk, write, share, pitch, question, eat, drink, laugh, challenge, commiserate – and, yes, sleep once in a while. Something special marked this 40th annual workshop that might be difficult to put your finger on, but anyone involved knew it was happening. “…very encouraging,” invigorating,” “awesome,” “5 stars!” “the best,”  “thrilling experience,” were just some of the comments which pointed in this direction.

From the new hands-on Tech Intensive Sessions to the wild Jeopardy game to the history celebration to the Message in a Bottle to the Buttonhole the Experts, and to all the useful and informative sessions taught by a superbly talented faculty, MWW13 jammed highlights galore into three exhausting days.

MWW Jama award foto - with inscriptionAfter the great energy and advice from Hank Phillippi Ryan’s banquet speech, another special highlight was the presentation of the Dorothy Hamilton Award to MWW director Jama Kehoe Bigger. The award, named for the co-founder of the workshop, is given selectively to a person associated with the workshop who exemplifies Dorothy’s strong personal interest in writing and assisting other writers in their careers.  The standing ovation for Jama confirmed this year’s choice was on target. (And she was also a bit overwhelmed when several long-time participants/friends created Jama’s Fan Club!)

Kudos from our participants…

  • “Great conference – great place to re-energize your enthusiasm for writing and to build relationships with writers and those in the publishing business.”– Stephen Terrell
  • “At every step of my writing process – from book idea to rough draft to final draft, to publishing, author platform, to agent representation – MWW offers help and people who know and love writing.”– Sandy Kachurek
  • “The Midwest Writers Workshop is a magnificent way to meet our peers and gain knowledge to perfect our craft. The authors and the staff are extremely generous with their time and knowledge. Having bestselling authors share their experiences and knowledge is awesome to the extreme. It’s like spending two whole days with the best possible mentors.”– William Markly O’Neal
  • “This conference is the best thing that could have happened to a ‘new writer.'”– Brittany Means
  • “Each year I attend I find there are ‘magically’ the exact classes I need for the stage I happen to be in with my writing at that moment.”– Carla Gillespie
  • “This is the best conference I could have attended. Friendly people, knowledgeable faculty, personalized options (like manuscript evaluations). This conference has helped me form new goals and equipped me with skills and resources to reach those goals. I feel much more prepared for the writing process – from first drafts, to revisions, to queries, and beyond – because of this conference.”– Kristen Metz
  • “This was my first conference, and I loved all of it. Everyone was welcoming. I made great contacts and even got two requests for full manuscripts. This conference is packed full of everything an emerging writer needs to step right into the world of publishing.”– Anne W. S.

Kudos from our faculty…

  • “As we say in Sisters in Crime, you write alone, but you’re not alone. Nowhere is this more gloriously apparent than the super-charged powerhouse of writing skill-the Midwest Writers Workshop.  From tentative newbie to experienced oldbie (!) -we all learned something useful, we all shared something special, we all made new friends, we were all inspired and – absolutely – we are all looking forward to the next time. A true triumph-and a must-do for anyone who’s  intrigued by the world of writing.” – Hank Phillippi Ryan (Mary Higgins Clark, Agatha, Anthony and Macavity award winning author, President of National Sisters in Crime)
  • “I left the Midwest Writers Workshop as a stronger writer…and I was on the faculty. I can only imagine what it does to attendees.” – Lou Harry
  • “The Midwest Writers Workshop 2013 lived up to its reputation as one of the best conferences in the country and certainly the best value. Any writer looking to learn the craft of writing, discover the tricks and tips to getting published, and meet a wonderful and accessible group of writers and agents, would be crazy to pass up this conference. MWW undoubtedly provides the best bang for the buck!” – D.E. (Dan) Johnson (The Detroit Electric Scheme; Motor City Shakedown; Detroit Breakdown; Detroit Shuffle, St. Martin’s Minotaur Books)
  • “The Midwest Writers Workshop remains at the top of my list of favorite conference experiences. The focused curriculum, helpful staff, and welcoming participants all make this one of the best organized writing events I’ve yet seen.” – Brooks Sherman, FinePrint Literary Management

Check out our videos! (produced by Matt Shouse)

Read more about the fun of MWW13!

Jane Friedman‘s luncheon presentation: Audience Development for Writers: Your Life-Long Career Investment

Cathy Day: BSU + MWW: or “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”

Kelsey Timmerman: Midwest Writers Workshop Video

Summer Heacock: The Fizziest Midwest Writers Workshop Wrap-Up You’ll Ever Read

Sarah Wesson: “Calm Down. Write a Book.”: What I Learned at the 2013 Midwest Writers Workshop

Check our Photo Gallery and tag yourself on our Facebook Page!

So we’re patting ourselves on the back. And for just a while, basking in the bright light that was #mww13 before we move onto our 41st MWW, July 24-26, 2014.

Interview with Jane Friedman

This summer, Midwest Writers Workshop is offering two “Tech Intensives” in addition to our “Craft Intensives.” The always-amazing Jane Friedman will teach an all-day, hands-on class on “Creating an e-book.” For years, Jane has been coming to MWW to talk about why authors need to be tech savvy. This year, we’ll augment her message with hands-on lessons that will show you how to get those skills. Jane is the web editor for Virginia Quarterly Review and an e-media and publishing visionary with (lucky for us) Muncie roots.

Here’s Jane’s course description of her Tech Intensive:

Attendees will learn what you need to get started in e-publishing your work. There will also be assistants on hand to help you figure out the technology and work one-on-one. The industry has exploded with new and free opportunities to help you publish your work electronically, at little or no cost to you. Learn how to get visibility for your work by using online services that make your work available on major e-reading platforms such as Kindle, Nook, and iPad. While e-publishing doesn’t equal instant success (if you build it, they may NOT come), you’ll learn the principles behind the successful creation and distribution of an e-book, as well as the technical skill required to convert your work into different formats.

Jane was kind enough to answer a few questions for MWW, interviewed by committee member Cathy Day.

Cathy: We are so fortunate that you’ll be teaching this intensive class for us. I’m not going to ask you a question about e-publishing, because you’ve already said so much about this subject. I’ll just point people here and here. But I will ask you this: What should people bring with them to your session? How can they best prepare?

Jane: If people want to get the maximum practical value from the workshop, they should come prepared with a manuscript that they’d like to publish as an e-book. Most people will probably have a Word document to start with, and that’s perfect. However, even if you don’t yet have a manuscript or document ready for e-publishing, I guarantee you won’t be twiddling your thumbs. There’s a lot of territory to cover–both theory and nuts and bolts–and practice files will be provided for those without their own manuscript.

Cathy: Good to know! You’ve been coming to Midwest Writers for how many years now?

Kelsey Timmernan, Jane Friedman, Jama Bigger and Cathy Day chat in the atrium.

Kelsey Timmernan, Jane Friedman, Jama Bigger and Cathy Day chat in the atrium.

Jane: Since 2003! It’s like a family reunion for me. [She received the MWW prestigious Dorothy Hamilton Award in 2008 for her contributions to the on-going success of Midwest Writers Workshop.]

Cathy: So this will be your tenth anniversary then. I love to tell people about Midwest Writers. Why do you keep coming back? What’s special about this conference?

Jane: Two qualities combined make it very special: high-quality workshops and teachers in an accessible, friendly, welcoming atmosphere. It’s one of the few writers conferences where the faculty and the environment are so openly interactive and inviting of conversation.

Also, that sunlit atrium where people congregate. It may sound silly, but I think it has an impact on how cheerful the event is. It has an architecture of happiness.

Cathy: Thanks Jane. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to continue learning from you this summer.

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

  • Friday Lunch / Audience Development: Your Lifelong Career Investment
  • Publishing in a Brave New World Panel: Sarah LaPolla, Roxane Gay, Barb Shoup, Jane Friedman, D.E. Johnson
  • E-Publishing 101: Using Amazon and Other Major Online Retailers to Publish Your Work. This overview of the DIY e-book landscape will help you understand the major players, current strategies, and key challenges of successful self-publishing.
  • The Art and Business of Building an Author Platform. Writers are often scared or baffled by platform because it’s seen as a marketing and promotion mindset-antithetical to the artist mindset. However, there is a way to approach platform that isn’t about selling, but rather understanding human behavior (including your own!).

 

A Workshop, A Manuscript, A Book

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

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

By Jama Kehoe Bigger

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

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

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

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

What? My manuscript? My untitled manuscript?

Not your typical path to publication.

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

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

I had found a mentor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had found an editor.

And I had found a publisher.

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

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

The Dive 2

Final (and published) revision of Chapter 1

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

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

What will your Midwest Writers story be?

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

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

 

MFA + MWW: Why MFA Grads Need to Attend a Writer’s Conference

MWW committee member Cathy Day interviews MFA Grads & MWW Alums

Approximately 175 people attended the Midwest Writers Workshop in July 2012. Among them were two recent MFA grads: Aaron Hoover (University of West Virginia 2011) and Caitlin O’Sullivan (Minnesota State University–Mankato, 2012). I’d never met either in person, but had been Facebook friends with them for a while–Aaron grew up near my hometown, and I used to teach at Mankato long ago. These two saw me yakking about MWW on Facebook and asked, “Would this be good for me?” and I said, “Absolutely.”

CathyWhat made you decide to come to MWW?

O'SullivanCaitlin: Two things: first, I wanted a shortcut to learning everything I needed to know about being a published novelist; and second, I wanted to meet agents. While I came out of my program feeling confident that I could write a kick-butt novel, I knew I had a lot to learn about the business of publishing–how to find agents, write query letters, and build a writing career. I also had what I thought was a pretty strong manuscript in a genre that some of the agents at the conference represented. I figured it would be harder for them to turn me down to my face than in an email.  

HooverAaron: I have this novel I want to publish, and coming into MWW I knew almost nothing about what that would entail. Now I feel very positive about my chances once I’m ready to put the book out there. I also wanted to get back in touch with writing and renew my commitment to the discipline of daily work. It’s very easy, with a family and two jobs, to lose touch with that side of myself. Attending MWW kept me focused on my work and helped to inspire a very productive summer.

 

Cathy: When you say “writing conference” most MFAers think AWP, but MWW is very different. I’d say that it’s about equal parts “craft of writing” and “business of writing.” Do you think that’s accurate? How would you describe it? What can a recent MFA grad expect? 

Caitlin: The craft classes at MWW didn’t necessarily blow my mind, but that’s probably because I just finished a program in which I’d been thoroughly steeped in craft. I think a recent MFA can expect to learn the most at the business panels, which definitely cover material that they didn’t teach you in grad school.

Aaron: I took more advantage of the business side of things than craft, because it was just what I needed. I quickly learned how the publishing industry categorizes work like mine, how to build a platform to promote my own work, and how best to talk and write to agents. All of this stuff was covered lightly, if at all, in my craft-focused MFA experience.

Cathy: What have been the biggest challenges of your post-MFA life? Did the conference help at all in that regard, and how exactly? 

Caitlin: I was lucky enough to have a bunch of brilliant, supportive classmates and teachers while I was in grad school. When I graduated, it meant that I didn’t get to see them on a daily or weekly basis anymore. While I also love the people I spend time with now, they’re not writers–their ability to help me learn to pitch my novel, fix plot holes, and work out character problems is pretty limited.

Aaron: Far and away the greatest challenges of my post-MFA life have been material. Squaring away the time and money to act like a writer is not easy for me because I do a lot of labor for little pay and have primary care responsibility for two young children.

Caitlin: MWW immersed me back in that writing-centric environment–and because it’s not a giant conference, I made friends that I saw several times each day of the conference. That “pretty strong manuscript”? My MWW friends helped me make it even stronger.

Aaron: This is worth saying too: this conference is amazingly well-priced. It also helped renew my passion for writing by clarifying my vision of how, exactly, I might become a successful, published writer.

Cathy: Why should MFA grads think about attending a conference like this?

Caitlin: Traditional MFA programs are great for instilling the fundamentals of good writing. They’re not so great when it comes to teaching writers how to market their writing, and what’s going on in the ever-changing publishing world. You know the saying “Smart people learn from their mistakes, geniuses learn from other people’s mistakes”?

Aaron: The MFA introduced me to the serious academic world, which changed my life; it connected me with a bevy of amazing artists who are now my friends and helpers; and it bought me some protected time to write a real manuscript. MWW got me out of the cozy, cloistered world of ‘art for art’s sake’ and introduced me to the world of the professional fiction writer – which is, I think, where many of us wanted to end up when we started the MFA.

Cathy: Let me say this as someone who has taught in an MFA program: you’re not being disloyal or ungrateful to your program by saying, “I didn’t learn a lot about how to publish.” I’ve written about this topic elsewhere, actually. (Should We Make It Our Business to Teaching the Business of Being a Writer?) Our MFA programs taught us how to write the best book possible. Without that, you’ve got nothing to sell anyway.

Caitlin: Right. MWW is probably good for skipping at least six months’ worth of crappy query letters, bad blog posts, and misguided social networking. If an MFA program is a writing boot camp, instilling you with skills and knowledge you’ll use throughout your career, MWW is the two-week specialized training that prepares you for your first mission: getting your first book published.

Aaron: I feel like I might, honest-to-goodness, be able to get this manuscript between covers and on the shelves of bookstores; I can see how that might unfold. So I have the kind of inspiration one gets when an important goal is not only strongly desired, but clearly in view. Also, if you were a little blue that your MFA program had little to say about ‘genre’ fiction, you’ll find that deficit remedied here.

Cathy: It would make me happy to see more MFA grads at our conference. Maybe MWW can become a kind of “publishing finishing school.” Thanks you guys for talking with me, and good luck with your books!

caitlinosullivan.com / @Caitlin_OSully
Aaron’s Facebook / And Blog, Such as it Is.