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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 agent Brooks Sherman

Meet Brooks Sherman!

Introducing one more agent coming to this summer’s Midwest Writers Workshop.

Q. Another MWW 2012 faculty member Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest interviewed you in the past. Is this information still correct?
About Brooks

Brooks : Brooks Sherman is thrilled to be living once more in Brooklyn, after a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in bucolic West Africa and a one-year stint in the savage jungles of Hollywood. He joined FinePrint Literary Management as an intern in 2010 and now, as an associate agent, is actively seeking a range of both fiction and nonfiction projects. You can find him on Twitter at @byobrooks.

He is seeking

: On the adult side, literary and upmarket fiction running the gamut from contemporary (with an eye toward multicultural or satirical) to speculative (particularly urban/contemporary fantasy, horror/dark fantasy, and slipstream). Brooks also has a weakness for historical fiction and a burgeoning interest in crime fiction. For nonfiction, he is particularly interested in works that focus on current events, history, and pop science/sociology. On the children’s side, he is looking to build a list of boy-focused Middle Grade novels (all subgenres, but particularly fantasy adventure and contemporary), and is open to YA fiction of all types except paranormal romance.

Brooks is specifically seeking projects that balance strong voice with gripping plot lines; he particularly enjoys flawed (but sympathetic) protagonists and stories that organically blur the lines between genres. Stories that make him laugh earn extra points. Recent favorites include Whiteman by Tony D’Souza, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, the Monstrumologist series by Rick Yancey, The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer, and Horns by Joe Hill.
All still true!

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?

I have not yet signed a client from a writing conference, but I am looking forward to the day it happens! I think writing conferences can be invaluable experiences for writers, as they help you network in the larger writing community, as well as give you face-to-face time with publishing professionals and get answers to those questions you’ve been dying to ask. I don’t often give detailed feedback in my responses to queries I receive — I simply don’t have the time in my day-to-day work — but I make a point of giving specific, constructive feedback to any writer I sit down with at a conference.

Q. In addition to the above, please be as specific about the fiction you are seeking as possible, to include whether you represent category romance, thrillers, and women’s fiction? Any type of fiction that is a definite rejection from you or any action or approach that you dislike?

I am seeking thrillers, but I’m afraid I am not the right agent for category romance or women’s fiction. As for approaches I dislike, I’ll echo what a lot of my fellow agents have to say on this matter: if I pass on your query or your manuscript, it does not help your case to argue with me. Also, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of other literary agents out there beyond me — why waste your time trying to convince someone who didn’t connect with your project to work with you? Ideally, you want your agent to be someone who loves your work, and who will champion it to publishers.

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)?

The best advice I can tell you when pitching an agent or editor is simply this: relax! I know it can seem like a lot of pressure, you having to sum up your entire novel or nonfiction project in a few sentences, but believe me, if I see that you’re nervous, it’s going to make me nervous. (Then we’re both going to feel awkward together.) For me, the best pitch is when a writer is simply talking about their project with pride, enthusiasm, and excitement — a pitch with that kind of energy behind it will shine. Also, if I connect with your pitch, I’m probably going to start asking you questions, so be prepared to have a conversation instead of delivering a speech!

Q. Would you like to add anything else about general tips for writers?

Lately, I’ve been receiving a lot of queries for self-published books. I’m afraid I’m almost always going to pass on these projects, and it’s not because I have a problem with self-publishing. (Actually, I’m pleased that the digital revolution has done so much to erase the stigma that self-publishing has labored under.) The hard truth is that unless you’ve already sold thousands of copies of your self-published book, I’m going to have a great deal of difficulty convincing a publisher to buy it, because it already is published, and they aren’t going to acquire it now unless they’re convinced it is worth their investment. So, if you’ve just self-published your book, and you’re looking for the next step, you would probably best be served at this time seeking a publicist or marketing strategist, rather than an agent. Once you’ve garnered some respectable sales, it will be easier to generate some interest from a traditional publisher, and then you can decide whether you want to work with an agent.

 

Interview with agent Sarah LaPolla

Meet Sarah LaPolla!

LaPolla Sarah LaPolla is an associate agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd. She studied creative writing at Ithaca College, and has an MFA in creative nonfiction from The New School. She joined Curtis Brown, Ltd. in 2008 as the assistant to the foreign rights department, and became an associate agent in 2010. Sarah represents both adult and YA fiction. For adult books, she is looking for literary fiction, urban fantasy, magical realism, mystery, literary horror, and has a soft spot for short story collections. On the YA side, she welcomes contemporary/realistic fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, magical realism, mystery, and horror. No matter what age the intended audience, Sarah tends to be drawn to voice-driven narratives, strong female protagonists, and complex characters.  Sarah runs a literary blog called Glass Cases and can be found on Twitter.

Q. What is the advantage to writers meeting and pitching you at a conference and do you think they are more serious and perhaps their decision comes faster, as examples? Have you found clients at conferences in the past?

I haven’t found a client at a conference yet, but I have made requests at conferences that I might not have just through receiving a query. I think writers who pay to go to conferences are serious, but I don’t think writers who can’t do that are any less serious. That said, being able to speak with a writer in person makes a difference. If I need a writer to elaborate on query, it usually means the story isn’t being conveyed well enough. I don’t have time to engage in a conversation with everyone who queries me, so those usually just get rejected. In person, I’m able to ask questions and see their enthusiasm for their novel.

Q. We have a list of what you don’t want in the comments that follow. What exactly are you looking for, and please be specific. For example, suspense and thrillers are not easy to define. Are you looking for either and please give a quick description of what they are?

I represent both YA and adult fiction, and the genres I look for in both of those categories run pretty parallel. I prefer contemporary stories to historical, unless there’s a very good reason for it to be historical. For “genre” fiction, I love horror, mystery, science fiction, and fantasy, but I look for the word “literary” before any of those headings. Think Shirley Jackson as opposed to Dean Koontz for horror, or Gillian Flynn rather than Sue Grafton for mystery. If I’m not in love with the characters, it’s hard for me to pay attention to much else. I also love magical realism, which is hard to define and is a very specific type of writing. My quick definition is: A subgenre of literary fiction that infuses fantastic/surreal elements to the story that are not essential to the plot.

Q. What else would you like to say? Also, I’ve seen that you are not keen on self-publishing. Why not?

I’m actually quite keen on self-publishing, but if you asked me this question two years ago I may have answered differently. I still think traditional publishing is a better route for most writers, but in some cases self-publishing is actually the better option. I think the quality of writing in self-publishing has gotten better because writers are voluntarily choosing it now. They know that a good book needs editing and marketing, and they are doing the jobs of ten different people to get their book in the hands of readers. Not all writers want to do that or even can do that, but the ones who are deserve to be taken seriously. A few years ago, it felt as if self-publishing was where writers went after they got too many rejections, and the quality of the work reflected that. That still happens, for sure, but the self-publishing landscape is definitely moving forward and I respect it for becoming a legitimate force in the industry.

Q. Do you have a personal list of automatic rejection criteria for queries and submissions?

I answer everything I receive with usually a form rejection, and then a personal rejection if it’s something I requested. (Or, the better case scenario, with an offer of representation!) There are two exceptions: When a query is attached instead of in the body of the email, it gets instantly deleted. The other “delete-without-being-read” query is when I see other agents copied on it. Writers should query multiple agents simultaneously, but they should be choosing specific agents they think will be a good fit for them. Mass emails show carelessness and a lack of professionalism.

Q. What premises or plot twists are you tired of seeing in your inbox?

1) Teenage girl or boy leads a normal life until he or she meets [insert love interest and/or paranormal creature here].

2) Main character’s parents are dead/neglectful/drunk/other excuse for absent, so main character must find self-actualization through a “wild” best friend or perfect soul mate.

3) A main or supporting character is or becomes a vampire, werewolf, or zombie. (Sadly, this is still all-too-common in my query pile.)

4) Dystopian worlds that don’t do anything new with the genre. I love dystopian, but it’s too hard to sell in the post-Hunger Games market so 99% of the time I have to pass on it. Conspiratorial governments, characters living in a post-apocalyptic world, and the one girl or boy (sometimes with super powers) who’s meant to save the day are the “basic” elements of dystopian that can’t stand on their own anymore.

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!

Interview with agent Kathleen Ortiz

Meet Kathleen Ortiz!

Time is running out! If you’ve been waiting to register for MWW 2012, do so now and pitch your book to an agent yet this summer. Plus, get valuable knowledge to take your writing career to the next level, or five!

Once again, MWW brings four New York agents to our workshop and offers participants registered for Part II the opportunity to pitch their manuscript ideas.

K OrtizKathleen Ortiz is the Subsidiary Rights Director and Literary Agent at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. On the children’s side, she is interested in acquiring all genres of YA (she especially gravitates to darker YA), but would specifically love a beautifully told story set within another culture (historical or modern, in the vein of Blood Diamond or Memoirs of a Geisha). She’s also looking for darker middle grade for older kids (especially in the vein of Labyrinth). On the adult side, she’s looking for lifestyle or technology non-fiction, as well as urban fantasy or paranormal romance. Please, no picture books, chapter books or adult books outside of romance.

Q. Please explain what you think the advantages are from your POV of meeting a potential writer client at a writers’ conference. Have you signed clients at conference?

Some advantages of meeting someone in person at a conference are getting to know them face-to-face and being able to see their passion for their work. I’ve never signed someone from a conference (though I certainly still have hope! I’m here, right? :)), but my colleague, Joanna Volpe, has! In fact, she signed three from this conference a couple of years ago: Veronica Roth, New York Times bestselling author of Divergent and Insurgent (Katherine Tegan books, Harper), Megan Powell (No Peace For The Damned, 47North, Amazon), and Rita Woods.

Q. What is the advantage for a writer who meets you at a conference, meaning is the wait for a decision shorter, do you look at a manuscript differently having met the author and are you more likely to request based on meeting someone?

I don’t look at the manuscript differently, because at the end of the day, it’s the writing and story that matter most. There are many, very nice people who query me whose stories just aren’t quite right for my list now. However with conferences, I do try to get back more quickly to those who pitch me than those who query me via our traditional submission guidelines.

Q. Sometimes writers have trouble knowing what their manuscript’s genre is and/or their story has elements from several genres. How does this cause challenges in representation and what can a writer do about this?

If an agent is looking for one genre and not another, it can definitely hurt their chances of even having a query read. For example, I’m not really open to YA paranormal at the moment. If your MS is really a sci-fi but you pitch it as paranormal, I might feel that you’re telling me it’s light on the sci-fi and heavy on the paranormal. On the flip side, if you have a YA paranormal and you try to pitch to me as sci-fi (to avoid being rejected on genre alone), and I can tell it’s paranormal, I’m going to assume you’re not well read in the genre, which means the worldbuilding and characters may be lacking.

Q. Would you like to add anything else to help writers prepare for a pitch to you and/or what are the most common mistakes you see?

Don’t talk for the ENTIRE pitch. Write a 2 sentence pitch. Keep it under 30-40 seconds. Then wait for the agent to comment / ask for more. If you talk the whole time, it doesn’t leave us much room to give feedback / ask questions. You WANT us to ask questions / want us to want more. It can be nerve wracking to pitch for the first time, but I promise you I’m not mean. I don’t bite. And I’ve not made anyone cry (so far). So I promise I’m nice 🙂

Follow her on Twitter: @KOrtizzle

kortizzle.blogspot.com

Interview with mystery novelist Julie Hyzy

Meet MWW faculty member Julie Hyzy: Mystery novelist, winner of Anthony and Barry Awards

Today’s leading authors and experts in the publishing industry will be on hand at the Midwest Writers Workshop this July, delivering insightful presentations, offering answers to those burning questions writers face, and helping fill in details on “what’s next.”

Note: Reading the work(s) of the faculty helps to maximize the conference experience. In fact, members of the MWW committee have already begun reading. It’s tough work, but somebody’s got to do it!

MWW Committee Member Cathy Shouse recently interviewed Julie Hyzy, author of the White House Chef Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime.

HyzyQ. Our family is going on vacation to Washington D.C. and I’m taking State of the Onion, (first in the series) for the car ride. How much research do you do for the D.C. series? Is your research ongoing or do you have it nailed after writing several?

Great question and I’m jealous that you’re visiting D.C. I love that city and — to answer your question — I’m always researching. What constantly amazes me is how ideas can pop when you least expect them. My family and I were there last June and even though I’ve been to D.C. for research many times over the years, it felt fresh and new, the way it always does. There’s always some great moment or location or experience that makes me glad I visited.

There are currently five books published in the White House Chef series and number six will be out in January. Even better I just signed a contract for three more for a total of nine. I’m excited.

Interestingly enough, I just signed a contract for three more Grace books (Manor House Mysteries) as well. That’s another series I adore researching. Because the stories are set at a mansion/tourist attraction/museum, I have all the excuse I need to visit places like the Hearst Castle in California, Ca d’Zan in Florida, and the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, which — incidentally — is where the Manor House mysteries are set.

Q. Tell us about your journey to publication. 

I started writing short stories. Sure, I attempted a novel (nobody has read it and no one ever will) but I was convinced I didn’t have the stick-to-it-tive-ness to finish an entire manuscript so I focused on short stories instead. I enjoyed myself thoroughly and saw my first few professional publications (in a Star Trek anthology). A friend from my writing group suggested I try my hand at a novel. Initially I demurred, thinking that I’d never finish it and it would turn out to be a colossal waste of time. But I did finish. Even better, I loved the experience so very much that I wrote another, and another.

Through all this I did not have an agent. That first finished manuscript sold to Five Star, as did the next two (these two were my first-ever series — The Alex St. James Mysteries). Was I thrilled? Absolutely. Because the books came out in hardcover, I was getting reviews and a little bit of notice. It was right about that time that a third party approached me about writing the White House Chef series and I jumped at the chance. Still no agent, mind you. It wasn’t until State of the Onion was published that I could get an agent to notice me.

Q. How will your intense session (“Writing the Cozy Mystery Novel”) at MWW this summer be structured and what types of secrets will you reveal? Any hints?

Hmm…. if I share the secrets, then no one will want to come to the talk <grin>.

Actually, I have a very conversational style and I get very excited talking about writing: the craft, the perseverance necessary, the ideas that threaten to burst if we don’t get them written down. I participated in an extremely intense two-week workshop about ten years ago and that experience has shaped me and my writing in profound ways. I hope to be able to engage participants the way I was engaged back then. There is so much to discuss on writing, especially crime fiction writing and I’m itching to get to it. Can you tell how much I’m looking forward to this workshop?

Q. Has attending conferences been an influence on your career?  If so, how?

I believe that attending conferences has had a *huge* influence on my career. Listening to panels of authors who are higher up the ladder than I am is always an eye opener and the lessons I’ve learned are invaluable.

Q. What else would you like to add to entice readers to sign for your course?

Well, there are those secrets that I haven’t spilled yet… If anyone wants to know what they are, they’d better sign up! Just kidding. I think I bring a level of enthusiasm and positive energy to my presentations. Writing is a solitary endeavor and the constant rejection can really get a person down. There are ways to look at things, and ways to look at things. Plus, I’m a meat and potatoes girl. By that I mean I like to talk about the nitty gritty parts of writing. I like to try to identify trouble spots and work on them. Not paint everything with a one-solution-fits-all swath. If that appeals, I hope you’ll sign up.

Q. What do you recommend as top three must-see stops while in D.C. and have you ever been in the White House kitchen? If so, please spill the details!

Top three stops in D.C. … Ooh, there are so many. The White House is my top choice, absolutely, but one usually needs to arrange for a visit at least six months in advance. Because it’s tough to get in, I’ll pick three additional choices (see how cleverly I managed to give myself four?) I think a stop at Arlington National Cemetery is a must, especially taking the time to visit the Tomb of the Unknown. If you’re able to watch a wreath-laying ceremony, you’ll be glad you took the time. The quiet, the reverence, and the peacefulness there make this a stop you won’t forget. I would also take a walking tour of the monuments. I can’t begin to choose one monument over another, so I’d strongly suggest doing the entire walk and seeing them all. They’re awe-inspiring and beautiful, each in its own way. Lastly, it’s hard to choose between a visit to the Capitol (also best if pre-arranged) and time spent at The Smithsonian. The Smithsonian, as you know, is a collection of wonderful museums all along the National Mall. We spent hours in the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of American History, the National Air and Space Museum, and we wandered around the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. Admission is free and there are so many other museums there (also the zoo) we didn’t have time to see. Our most recent family trip took us to several cities over two weeks and the kids, by far, loved D.C. the best. Fabulous city.

You asked if I’d ever been to the White House kitchen. Yep, I have — for the first time on this trip with the kids. I was lucky enough to have turned my ankle while walking at Arlington the day before our White House visit and, while there, I asked if there was any way to get to the first floor from the ground floor other than taking the stairs. (Keep in mind, I have the entire floor plan memorized from all my research.) As it turned out, there happens to be an elevator right next to the kitchen. Imagine that! A very nice uniformed Secret Service agent escorted me (not the family) through the restricted area and through the back corridors, past the kitchen, which I was thrilled to finally see. It’s small. I know I’ve mentioned that in the books, but it was even smaller than it looks in pictures. I was so excited to get my own “private” tour of the back, working areas and I knew that I’d be able to add even more detail to the next book because of it.

Thanks again for these great questions!

Best,

Julie

New York Times bestselling author of AFFAIRS OF STEAK

www.juliehyzy.com

http://juliehyzy.blogspot.com/

Pitch Perfect: expert tips to snag an agent

Meet Chuck Sambuchino!

Chuck Sambuchino is an editor for Writer’s Digest Books (an imprint of F+W Media) and is the editor of Guide to Literary Agents as well as Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. He also oversaw the third edition of Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript. Chuck has instructed on writing and publishing at more than 50 writing events in the past five years, including presentations in Italy and Canada, and he is sometimes one of the conference’s keynote speakers. His humor book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack (2010), was featured by Reader’s Digest, USA Today, The New York Times and AOL News.

Chuck is also a writer and freelance editor. He is a produced playwright, with both original and commissioned works produced. He is a magazine freelancer, with more than 600 of his articles appearing in print. His website–the Guide to Literary Agents blog–is one of the largest blogs on writing & publishing.

Chuck is the the keynote speaker for the opening of MWW Part II on Thursday evening. You will not want to miss his presentation, Mastering the In-person Pitch.  This is a chance for Part II participants to practice their “agent pitch.”  Chuck will critique the pitch for all to hear. Individuals can pitch or simply attend to listen in on other pitches. It’s an opportunity for writers to rehearse their elevator pitch before sitting face-to-face with agents. This session targets fiction and nonfiction writers, both novice and intermediate; and it breaks down what needs to be in a pitch, and what NOT to include in a pitch. Chuck will listen to sample pitches to help you prepare for your pitch with an agent on Friday or Saturday.

New this year, MWW offers a Query Critique with Chuck Sambuchino (or Jane Friedman). For an additional fee of $35, you can meet for a 10-minute one-on-one consultation with either Chuck or Jane. The deadline is July 1st, so register NOW if you want to take advantage of this great opportunity!

MWW intern Linda Taylor recently interviewed Chuck about his appearance at this summer’s workshop.

Q. First and most important, my husband and I have a few garden gnomes in our yard, several around our house, and one on the flag out front that says “Welcome Gnome.” I assume we should be worried?

Very worried. Gnomes cannot be trusted under any circumstances. These gnomes outside are no doubt probing your outer defenses at this very minute, looking for weaknesses.

Q. Second, and more on a serious note, how does such an unusual and interesting idea like that become a book? What do you tell potential authors about their ideas for books–even the really unusual ideas? (After all, someone thought putting Jane Austen with zombies would be a good idea . . .)

Nonfiction books simply need three elements to come to life: 1) a unique or interesting idea, 2) proof that an audience exists to buy it, and 3) an author with platform who can sell books. Even very unusual ideas, such as GNOME, can come to life, as long as those three elements are in place. From a writing perspective, you would pitch a book on New York architecture the same way you would pitch one on a history of unicorns: by addressing elements 1, 2 and 3.

Q. Briefly describe your journey as a writer–from your bio on your blog, you appear to have done a lot of types of writing from newspapers and magazines, to writing scripts, to writing articles and books (the latter ranging from resource manuals to humor). When did you first decide to become a writer and how did your path lead you to where you are today?

In high school, I was always the one in the group who could tell a story the best. I didn’t realize it, but that was the origin of me as a writer. In college, I majored in public relations and then decided I didn’t want a job in PR, so I took an entry-level position with a weekly newspaper when out of school. I got promoted to reporter and also started freelancing for magazines on the side. This gave me some writing cred when I applied to Writer’s Digest Books. Once I joined WD books, I started writing plays and books, and saw success with both. During the day, I am an editor for WD Books, and during the night, I write humor books and screenplays. (That’s the short version, but no one would have the desire, nor patience to read the long version.)

Q. What advice, then, do you have for young writers? for older writers?

I could speak on this question for one week straight and still have advice to give. But I will say this: No matter if you are old or young, some across-the-board pieces of advice for writers include 1) keep moving forward and do not give up, 2) build your writer platform and make connections with other people, and 3) always write the best book possible, because the cream rises to the top.

Q. At the Midwest Writers Workshop, you’re teaching on several topics, including “Mastering the In-Person Pitch.” That’s probably one of the most frightening parts of being a writer–working on a computer composing pages is one thing, having to then do a “sales job” in order to get that book published is quite another. What do you say to allay those fears and help even the most introverted writer?

I will cover the nuts & bolts of all this in my speech at the event. But writers should know that agents understand how nervous writers get, so they’re pretty patient with everything. Also, pitching a book means following a step-by-step formula. Once you know what to address, then it’s all a matter of filling in the blanks.

Q. Another session topic is “Chapter 1 Do’s and Don’ts.” What’s the worst way to start a book? Do you have an example (beyond Snoopy’s “It was a dark and stormy night . . .”)?

Avoid descriptions of the weather. Don’t start with a dream. Try not to be inside of a character’s head for very long or at all.

Q. Your third topic is “The Business of Scriptwriting.” Did you find it to be an easy or natural transition to scriptwriting from all of the other types of writing you do? What is most rewarding and/or most challenging about scriptwriting?

“Scriptwriting” means writing plays and/or screenplays. I wrote plays before I did anything else. Now I’m trying screenplays. It’s an unusual transition, but there are upsides. When your work becomes a play, then the written dialogue is king, and it’s very rewarding to hear an audience erupt in laughter or be as quiet as can be when listening to your words. The reward with screenwriting is writing in a visual medium, and that the pay is much better than most writing assignments.

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?

Not really. I teach at a lot of writers conferences. I love meeting writers. I am happy to talk with anyone at the event who has a question or five about their journey. I will see you all soon!

Note: Chuck’s Part II Sessions:

  • Chapter 1 Dos and Don’ts – This workshop examines that all-important Chapter 1.  It spends a lot of time going over what not to do-listing clichés and overused techniques that repeatedly pop up in chapter 1 manuscripts, with comments from agents and editors alike. Following a discussion of agent pet peeves, the workshop addresses what writers should be doing to draw readers in.
  • Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published Panel [Cathy Day, moderator]; with Jane Friedman, Kathleen Rooney, JL Stermer
  • The Business of Scriptwriting: You’ve Written a Play or Screenplay-Now What? – This workshop examines what writers need to do if they’ve finished that play or screenplay and don’t know what to do now.  We’ll address targeting markets, getting plays read/workshopped, writing script queries, the difference between agents and managers, and more.  Everything is discussed, from writing and rewriting to contests and dealing with directors. Handouts provided.  It’s not a session about craft; it’s a session about business-for writers who have a script and no idea what to do with it.

News from agent Kathleen Ortiz

New Leaf Literary & Media

Great news: Joanna Stampfel-Volpe (MWW faculty in 2009) has opened up her own agency, and Kathleen Ortiz has joined her.

Formation of new agency

Kathleen Ortiz is the Subsidiary Rights Director and Literary Agent at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. On the children’s side, she is interested in acquiring all genres of YA (she especially gravitates to darker YA), but would specifically love a beautifully told story set within another culture (historical or modern, in the vein of Blood Diamond or Memoirs of a Geisha). She’s also looking for darker middle grade for older kids (especially in the vein of Labyrinth). On the adult side, she’s looking for lifestyle or technology non-fiction, as well as urban fantasy or paranormal romance. Please, no picture books, chapter books or adult books outside of romance.

She represents Jaime Reed’s Cambion Chronicles (Kensington), Dawn Rae Miller’s Larkstorm, Sarah Fine’s Sanctum (Marshall Cavendish / Oct ’12), who also writes as S.E. Fine for Scan (Putnam for Young Readers, coauthored with Walter Jury / Fall ’13), as well as Disney and Sony animator Dan Haring and Betty Crocker recipe writer Bree from BakedBree.com.

Find Kathleen on Twitter or visit her blog for more information or updates on the publishing industry.

MWW Alumni News

Bragging a bit!

From Kate SeRineI attended the 2010 Midwest Writers Workshop, courtesy of the Zilpha Danner Memorial Scholarship. While there, I learned some great information and made my first pitch to an editor. The editor requested my manuscript, and although she eventually passed on the manuscript, the experience was invaluable in boosting my confidence! Feeling pretty good about how things were going, I entered the manuscript in the Finally a Bride Contest (sponsored by the Oklahoma chapter of Romance Writers of America) and ended up being a finalist and placing 2nd. In addition, the editor who was a final judge requested my manuscript and (several months later!) made an offer.

I’m happy to announce that my novel, Red (Book 1 of my Transplanted Tales series), was sold in a three-book deal to Alicia Condon at Kensington Books and will be released in August 2012 as part of their new digital-first imprint, eKensington. (And I’m all register to come in July!

From Lori Lowe

I found the Midwest Writers Workshop team to be encouraging and welcoming. While I’ve attended larger writing conferences, MWW is the one I have found most helpful and to which I have returned. I benefited from the 2010 conference by meeting the agent I later signed with and by interacting with and learning from respected faculty. I also made helpful connections and was honored with a Manny Award. Finally, I have made friends with other writers on the publishing journey, and that has made my life richer.

My marriage book was published in late 2011. First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage (available in print and e-book) is an inspirational book with real-life stories of finding true marriage after overcoming adversity. Or check my blog.

From Elaine L. Orr

The second book of my Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series (electronic and paperback), Rekindling Motives, was released last year. (Appraisal for Murder is the-first in the series.) Lightening struck when I heard Mike Lawson (during last year’s Intensive Session) describe how to put more punch into an opening paragraph of a novel, and I rewrote the first paragraph of my four-book mystery series.  A number of people have said the opening really drew them into the book.

MWW success stories: Dan Johnson and Lonnie Whitaker

We’re always pleased to pass along the good news of publishing successes from our MWW participants.

DE JohnsonDan Johnson, Schoolcraft, MI (2006 MWW alum), is author of The Detroit Electric Scheme (St. Martin’s Minotaur Books, September 2010) dejohnsonauthor.com. Dan is also our 2010  Friday luncheon speaker, “How I Got Here from There.”

Q: How did you discover MWW and how did it help your writing career?
I found information on the MWW on the internet and attended in 2006. It was the most instructive conference I’ve been to, before or since. I’ve been surprised to find that very few conferences give you the “nuts and bolts” knowledge that new writers need.

Q: Please condense the overall story of your book.
1910 Detroit: Will Anderson, heir to America’s largest electric automobile manufacturer, has been framed for murder. Worse, the woman he loves is in terrible danger, and Will knows it’s his fault. He follows her through the gutters of Detroit, trying to save her and find the killer at the same time. As the evidence mounts, Will gets closer and closer to the truth-a secret that could cost Will not only his life, but also the lives of the people he loves most.

“The surprise ending leaves you gasping and shaking your head at Johnson’s masterful plotting and the menacing tension that forces otherwise good characters to behave despicably. Every bit as powerful as Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley series, this gem of a debut showcases an author to watch very closely.” —Booklist (Starred review)

Q: What is the best advice on writing you’ve ever received?
“Let your characters boss you around.” I’ve heard versions of this advice in various books and classes, but it still amazes me how my characters hijack my story if I let them. When I don’t let them, they fight back. And they always win.

Q: Is there something else people might find interesting about your journey to publication?
My journey to publication was humbling, surprising, and ultimately thrilling. I have a good story to tell about the tenuous thread that leads to being published, and how maximizing your opportunities is essential.

Lonnie Whitaker, High Ridge, MO (2001 MWW alum), is author of Geese to a Poor Market, (High Hill Press, released summer2010).

Q: How did you end up coming from Missouri to attend MWW and how did it help your career?
In early 2001, I sold a 500-word story (my first) to a regional magazine and the process hooked me–I wanted to learn the tricks I imagined my journalism friends knew.  I started searching online for a workshop and found MWW.  It’s the same distance from St. Louis to Kansas City as it is to Indianapolis, so the distance didn’t seem too bad.  I spoke with Jama and signed up.  The lineup in 2001 was terrific. I signed up for a critique session and drew Karl Largent.  He told me that writers write, but authors get published, and that I was an author.  At the end of the session he challenged me. “You’ve got the ability–the question is what are you going to do with it?”  That 30-minute session was a turning point.  As the cliché goes:  when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Q: What is the overall story of your book?
In 1955 Rita Sanders leaves a cheating husband and returns to her childhood home in the Missouri Ozarks.  She lands a job at a honky-tonk on the outskirts of a bible-belt village owned by a retired navy petty officer, and her religious mother disapproves. With the reappearance of her estranged husband, the prodigal daughter discovers there is more than one snake in the garden, as her husband and mother conspire against her for custody of her son.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve received to help your writing career?
“Never have your protagonist running quickly when he could be sprinting.”  Again, Karl Largent at MWW.  That became my starting point for learning the craft of commercial fiction and tight writing.  As a reminder, my business card has a quote from Mark Twain: “When you catch an adjective–kill it.”

Q: Did you learn anything interesting on this journey to publication?
I had to learn how to make moonshine to write one of the chapters. Just because I grew up in the Ozarks doesn’t mean that’s one of my talents.