Meet a Pulitzer Prize Finalist!

Meet MWW faculty member Lee Martin

Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction

MWW Committee Member Cathy Shouse continues her Q&As with this year’s faculty. Here is her interview with Lee Martin, who will teach a Part I Intensive Session (“Literary Fiction, The Art of Flash Fiction”), as well as a session on writing the memoir.  

Lee is the author of the novels, The Bright Forever, a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction; River of Heaven; Quakertown; and Break the Skin. He has also published two memoirs, From Our House and Turning Bones, and another memoir, Such a Life, is set to appear in 2012. He teaches in the MFA Program at The Ohio State University, where he was the winner of the 2006 Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching.   

Martin lee

Q. I’ve read The Bright Forever, your novel which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. How is it different from writing the Flash Fiction you’re teaching in your intensive session this summer? Also, I’ve heard the term, but how do you define Flash Fiction and what are some ways writing it can help authors of any genre?

Writing a novel is like running a marathon. It takes endurance and a faith that eventually you’ll cross the finish line. Flash fiction takes a similar faith that you can follow a track over a page, or a few pages, but the process itself is more of a dash. It’s a completely different rhythm, one that allows you to create a draft with few words. A complete story in 500 words, or 750, or 1,000 or so. It’s really more like writing a poem, coming to a moment of illumination. We sometimes call the form sudden fiction, or micro-fiction. Steve Heller says, “Sudden fiction, it seems, can be anything, as long as it is short and delivers an impact that is both significant and lasting.” William Peden is more precise with his definition of the form:  “a single-episode narrative with a single setting, a brief time span, and a limited number of speaking characters (three or four at the most); a revelation-epiphany; the click of a camera, the opening or closing of a window, a moment of insight.” Writing in this compressed form makes the artistic choices that a writer makes in structure, characterization, detail, point of view, and language stand out more boldly. When we write flash fiction, we internalize the tools we need to have in order to write longer works.

Q. You’re also teaching on writing a memoir. Although The Bright Forever is a novel, are there autobiographical aspects to the book? How does exploring one’s life help in writing fiction, if you think it does?

The Bright Forever is based on a true story, the abduction of a young girl in a small town eight miles from where I grew up. Some of the facts of that case made their way into the novel along with a number of created characters, events, etc. I believe that all writing, no matter the form, allows us to think more fully about what Faulkner called “the old verities and truths of the heart.” In The Bright Forever, for example, I was able to express and explore my own experiences growing up in a small Midwestern town and the sense of the inner lives that people lived there.

Q. Explain to us your idea of “literary fiction.” Your setting is a small town and the story deals with the painful subject of a missing young girl, which could, on the surface, be “commercial” fiction. Do you think an author chooses to write literary fiction or does it choose him or her? Some of us are a bit afraid of it. It sounds serious and difficult! 🙂

Oh, I hate hearing that the term “literary fiction” sounds intimidating. I think the writer’s first obligation is to entertain the reader, and, of course, plots similar to more mainstream fiction come into play in literary fiction. Think of The Great Gatsby, for example–a story of a man trying to reconnect with a lost love. Haven’t a number of mainstream novels used that premise for the effect of leading a reader to wonder what will happen next in a plot? That question of what will happen next is important for entertainment value in literary fiction as well, but, unlike many mainstream novels, literary fiction is primarily interested in what the plot of a novel has to show us about characters and the mysteries of human existence. In literary fiction, characters create their own plots through the choices they make and the actions they take. Henry James said, “What is character but the determination of character? What is incident but the illustration of character?” To me, this is the crux of literary fiction–characters creating their own fates and plots revealing more of the mysteries of those characters’ personalities and what they have to show us about what it is to be human. The writer of literary fiction has to be extremely interested in the contradictions that reside within human beings and how acting from those contradictions can unfold plots that will show readers something interesting about the characters who created them. It’s a matter of a writer deciding what he or she wants to do–only entertain a reader, or entertain a reader while also investigating the complexities of human beings.

Q. If someone signs up to learn Flash Fiction in the intensive, is there preparation that should be done? For the uninitiated, can you recommend some quality Flash Fiction for us to explore?

The anthology, Sudden Fiction, edited by Robert Shapard and James Thomas, is an excellent collection of examples of the form. I don’t think any special preparation is necessary. As long as someone has a storytelling impulse, and imagination, and a love of the music language can make on the page, we should be good to go.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add, which might include hints on your philosophy/approach to writing and/or your teaching style?

I’m a firm believer that writing is a matter of artistic choices creating specific effects. Reading and writing flash fiction becomes one way of taking an inventory of such choices and effects.

Q. In these economic times, writers sometimes wonder if they should invest in attending a conference.
Writers’ conferences played a large role in my development as a writer. I was a waiter (work-study scholarship) at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 1986 and then a Scholar there in 1992. Attending that conference, and others, put me in touch with a larger community of writers, editors, and agents. It allowed me a more intense study of craft while at the same time permitting me to make friends and professional contacts that are still important to me to this day. Such are the benefits of attending a writers’ conference. My first published story came about as a result of my first summer at Bread Loaf. That one publication raised my confidence level, and I went on from there.

Cathy Day: Storyboard Your Novel

2011 Midwest Writers Workshop – “Creating the Storyboard for Your Novel” – Cathy Day. Most of us learn to write by focusing on short, manageable story forms, such as flash fiction, short stories, or essays. But how do we move from “the small thing” to “the big thing”? In this intensive prose session, author Cathy Day will offer practical advice on how to make this shift in your writing life, including in-class writing exercises that will help you create a blueprint or “storyboard” for the book you want to write. Participants are encouraged to bring a package or two of index cards or Post-it Notes (low-tech option) or a laptop equipped with a software program they are already familiar with, like Scrivener (high-tech option). Come with an idea for a book you want to write, not one you have already written.

Holly Miller: Manuscript Makeover

2011 Midwest Writers Workshop – “Manuscript Makeover” — Dennis Hensley & Holly Miller. This interactive intensive is designed for those fiction and nonfiction writers who are ready to take a quantum leap forward in enhancing their writing skills. Participants will submit the first 10 pages of a manuscript in progress. The instructors will edit and critique these pages and display them (anonymously) to the class as a way of revealing strengths and weaknesses in the material. Additionally, the instructors will lead the students in writing exercises and offer advice on such topics as enhancing dialogue, learning to self-edit, mastering proofreading, finding the right markets for manuscripts and knowing when and how to go into writing full-time.

Mike Lawson: Writing Thrillers

2011 Midwest Writers Workshop – “What I’ve Learned About Writing Thrillers/Mysteries” – Mike Lawson. Author of six acclaimed political thrillers, Mike will share what he’s learned about the craft. Topics include the need for a strong beginning and how to create one; the pitfalls of writing a mystery series; how to make your stories ring true; how to improve the pace of your mystery/thriller; and some practical advice on of the business aspects of writing such as the author/agent/publisher relationship and lessons learned in promoting books. Participants will be requested to share their experiences.

Patti Digh: From Blog to Book

2011 Midwest Writers Workshop – Nonfiction “From Blog to Book” – Are you a blogger who longs for a book contract? Or have you thought of starting a blog to get a book contract? We’ve all heard of six-figure advances being paid to bloggers to turn their blogs into books. Those stories have spurred many people to create blogs – without having anything to say, or without identifying what they long to say. In this hands-on session, we’ll explore why blogging is a good first step to writing a book — and, conversely, why and how focusing on the book deal splits our focus. We’ll explore where we need to stand to tell our stories, how to open space to tell them, how to interact with a blog audience in a way that doesn’t change our voice, and how to define and clarify the organizing principles of both a blog and book. Many of us write from a place of split intentions: we want to tell our story AND we want the audience to love us. This session focused on stepping out of that split intention. It focused more on voice and writing than on book deals, though a Q&A session during the session opened space for sharing of information on the publishing process.

Libby Fischer Hellmann: Mystery Writing

2011 Midwest Writers Workshop — “Anatomy of a Crime Novel: The Craft of Crime Fiction” – Libby Fischer Hellmann. It is said that writing a publishable novel is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration. In this hands-on intensive session, you’ll sweat it out by exploring the elements of craft that make a crime fiction novel impossible to put down. Whether you write cozies or hard-boiled, PI or amateur sleuth, you’ll learn how the effective use of plot, narrative, voice, setting, character, dialogue, and suspense can take your work to the next level. The workshop will focus on the practical as opposed to the theoretical, so be prepared for plenty of exercises and discussion.

JT Dutton: Writing the YA Novel

2011 Midwest Writers Workshop – “Writing the Young Adult Novel for the Young Adult at Heart” – JT Dutton. Do you have a vampire in your closet? Werewolves at your door? Or a story to tell about what it feels like to be young and full of dreams? Some novels we read, some we live. Join this intensive workshop to learn how to craft believable teen characters and write the novel you’ve been imagining ever since you first felt swept away by Catcher in the Rye or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The workshop will focus on honing the literary elements of Young Adult fiction with special emphasis on voice, character, narrative and pace. Our discussions will not be limited to specific sub-genres of Young Adult but cover the range from romance to edgy. Be prepared to learn lots of interesting new writing strategies.

Success story: Veronica Roth

MWW success story!

During our 2009 MWW, agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of the Nancy Coffey Literary Agency met with workshop participants for pitch sessions and signed three authors as clients. In fact, Joanne now represents MWW attendee Veronica Roth who writes YA and has contracted a 3-book deal with Harper Collins Children’s books.

Veronica’s first book, Divergent, has been on the New York Times Bestseller List at #6 for three weeks!

Q&A with publicist Dana Kaye

Meet Dana Kaye of Kaye Publicity


We’re pleased to have a publicist join our 2011 MWW faculty!

Dana KayeAfter graduating from Columbia College with a BA in Fiction Writing, Dana worked for a few years as a freelance writer and book critic before deciding to move to the other side of the press kit. She signed her first client in February of 2009, and by the end of the year, she represented 30 authors.


Q:  What exactly are the services your business offers?

I work with authors to expand their name recognition, build their brand, and increase sales. I do this through booking radio/TV interviews, obtaining print media coverage, executing social media campaigns, scheduling book tours, and occasionally, guerilla marketing. There are 3-month, 6-month, and year-round campaigns depending on the project. I prefer working with authors year round because I can continually shape their brand and find new opportunities for them. I currently represent mostly crime fiction authors, but am also looking to expand my client list with literary fiction and creative nonfiction.
Q: What are some reasons an author would hire a publicist instead of relying on their publisher and their own efforts?

Most in-house publicists have dozens of books on their list each month. There simply isn’t enough time/budget to give each book attention. I work to fill in the gaps left by the in-house publicist. Additionally, an in-house publicist works for the publisher. I work for the client. I have more freedom to take risks and experiment with new marketing techniques.

Q: What are some of the topics you will cover at MWW?

In my first session, I will teach authors how to position themselves in the market. Agents and editors are concerned with platform and how the book will be marketed. I’ll show aspiring authors how to build their platform so they’re more marketable to agents and editors.
Q:  Who are a few of your clients and how have you promoted them?

I worked with Mike Lawson, one of the featured authors at the MWW, to increase his online presence. I booked dozens of blog reviews, increased his web presence, and set up his Twitter account. I also work with Marcus Sakey Two deaths(2010 MWW faculty member), Jamie Freveletti, and Bryan Gruley. Running coverWith each of them, I played up their unique platforms to obtain coverage in “off market” publications. For example, Hanging tree cvrBryan’s Starvation Lake series is set in Northern Michigan where hockey is a way of life. We obtained coverage on a handful of hockey blogs as well as Blue Line radio.


Q: What are some tips for authors attending the conference?

Treat the conference as a learning experience. Don’t be so concerned with meeting the agents and delivering the perfect pitch. Strike up conversations at meals or in the hallway, you never know who you’ll meet and what you’ll learn.



Follow Dana: Follow us on Twitter

Q&A with tax specialist Gary Hensley

Meet Gary Hensley, tax specialist

Q: How did you begin working with MWW on accounting and tax topics and how does your advice at conference refer specifically to writers?

My brother, Dennis Hensley, is a committee member and many years back he suggested to the committee that one or two lectures on the “business side of writing” would add “something different” to this writer’s workshop. Since then, I have made several appearances at MWW offering two or three separate interactive sessions on the best procedures for writers to follow regarding their business accounting and tax preparation. I focus on the critical tax schedules and available tax benefits of working as a self-employed writer.

Q: What are the top mistakes you see writers making with their accounting records and tax return preparation?

The number ONE mistake is not thinking about the “business side” of your writing activities all year long — not in early April when the crush is on to file “last year’s” tax return. The number two mistake is delegating your business affairs to your tax preparer and hoping he or she has specialized knowledge about your profession. Remember:  tax preparers only work with what you give them. The writer needs to supply complete and accurate information regarding education costs, travel expenses, business-related equipment purchases, and all other expenses. The professional writer should be able to review the completed return for completeness and accuracy and spot any missing items on the final Schedule C. Finally, document, on a contemporaneous basis, all your expenses.

Q: What tips do you have for people to do that might be helpful in preparation for your MWW sessions?

Write down your business or tax questions and bring them into the sessions. Although I will stay on track and deliver the information needed in each session, I respond to specific attendee questions during and at the end of each session. I can promise that I will NOT be reading dry sections from the Internal Revenue Code. I will be focusing on the critical tax schedules and the rules for maximizing deductions and providing handouts and website references. It really pleases me to see prior attendees return to my sessions with new and “more involved” questions which flow from their growing professional achievements.

Q:  Do you have any success stories and/or stories of interest about how the sessions have benefitted writers in past years?

I see the immediate relief of anxiety from attendees in the sessions when they get specific answers to their most perplexing questions. I see them smile when they are shown how to maximize their business deductions. I have received post-workshop emails confirming the value of the sessions at tax-filing time.

Q:  Is there anything else you would like to add?

The most popular session deals with your status as a writer:  are you a professional in the eyes of the IRS or do you write just as a “hobby”? This session is a “must” for all writers!  I would classify it as a “foundation” class. Writers work hard for their income. My goal is to let them keep the lion’s share of that income.

Q:  What is your professional background?

I just completed six years as a field Revenue Agent for the IRS (auditing individual and business tax returns). Prior to that, I was an auditor with the Michigan Department of Treasury. I have also worked with local and national CPA firms and Ford Motor Company. I was a classroom instructor in taxation and accounting at a local community college for over seven years rising to the rank of Associate Professor. My articles on this subject have appeared in Christian Communicator, Writers Journal, Writer’s Digest, the Christian Writers Guild blog and other publications. I hold BBA and MBA degrees from Saginaw Valley State University.