Posts

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.

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

Alumni News

Toni Cantrell‘s book, The Gazebo, was released April 2011 from Belfire Press. Toni has three other novels in print, Strangers and Pilgrims and If Ever That Time Come with Author House and Absentminded by Voni Ryan (co-author Violet Ryan) also from Belfire Press. Another co-authored novel with Bea Simmons was published in July, 2011, and Voni Ryan’s collection of short stories in December, 2011. This prolific author credits much of her confidence and success to attending the annual Midwest Writers Workshop for the past several years.

Michael Ehret is now editor-in-chief of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild in Colorado Springs, CO. He is also a twice-monthly blogger with Novel Journey and the ezine editor for the American Christian Fiction Writers.

Lori Lowe has signed a contract with agent Dr. Uwe Stender, whom she met for a pitch session during the 2010 MWW. He is now representing her nonfiction book.

Tricia Fields also attended Midwest Writers Workshop in 2010 and in September won the Tony Hillerman best first mystery award for her book, The Territory.

Maurice Broaddus, a MWW 1993 alum, had his debut novel, King Maker, released last fall from Angry Robot/Random House, the first of an urban fantasy trilogy set in Indianapolis. He has also founded an annual conference that discusses spirituality and genre fiction. He edits a now annual anthology called Dark Faith (Apex Books) and his fiction has appeared in over two dozen markets. “I just wanted to let you know that one of your local alumna is doing pretty well,” he says.