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MWW14 – Recap

MWW14 may be in our rearview mirrors, but a lot of what we experienced and learned will always remain. We invite you to view the photos and videos, which are sure to bring back memories.

With 17 official faculty and several unofficial “Friends of MWW” (waving to Matthew Clemens and Summer Heacock, among others), attendees were faced with difficult workshop choices. Because of the possibilities available, each participant’s experience was different based on the sessions attended, the friends made, and sometimes the friendships renewed. Many had pitch sessions with one of our five literary agents, and others had a manuscript critique—or not.

Our star-studded faculty included William Kent Krueger and Elizabeth Berg, to name just two. Our interns were like elves, helping to complete many tasks. Plus, the agent panel was a must-see that left a buzz in its wake.

We found our tribes—literally—on Thursday evening, which was life-changing, in some cases. And we spent our days talking about “pacing,” “conflict,” and the extent of our “discoverability.”

How could we forget Kelsey’s marvelous stories, Jess Lourey’s novel-writing pyramid, and William Kent Krueger’s wisdom and encouragement? Plus, Allison Joseph’s and John Tribble’s tips on all things literary? Pam Mandel and Amanda Heckert shared insider secrets from editors. The list never ends.

Over lunch, Jane Friedman reminded us that 1) we should know and use our social media stats 2) “Money Ball” fans are their own demographic and 3) There’s nothing like a GIF demo of the Amazon and Hachett debacle to show how that feud hurts everyone.

For our “Evening with Elizabeth Berg” we were joined by many persons from the city who are fans of the New York Times bestselling author.  Some tidbits of the many insights she shared: “Honor your own instincts.”  “Don’t be a derivative.”  “Don’t be imitative.” “They still need good writers.” This advice was more valuable, knowing it came from someone who, after her first rejection, didn’t submit again for 25 years. She also said to hold nothing back in the writing, and shared that in her debut novel, the father was unsympathetic, much like her own father. That book helped Elizabeth to reshape her relationship with her father.

What can we say about Daniel José Older’s banquet speech? His depiction of working as an EMT in New York City was powerful, vivid and gritty. One thing’s for sure, Daniel’s talk not only pushed the envelope, but it spurred many conversations afterward. We think that’s a good thing.  The goal of our planning committee is to s-t-r-e-t-c-h our attendees by including voices, styles, genres, and tones that they haven’t previously encountered. That means spotlighting seasoned writers such as Elizabeth Berg, emerging writers such as Daniel José Older, and future best-selling authors such as the winners of our Manny writing contest.

Last, Nicholas Sparks has nothing on Midwest Writers because we’ve got “The Notebook.” This year’s program notes embody a proverbial treasure trove of information and insights. So when we want to go beyond reminiscing about MWW14, we can grab the notebook. When the snow starts to fly, or whatever winter means to our 234 of attendees who came from 20 states and 3 countries this year, we can relive summer in Muncie.

Don’t get us wrong. We know MWW14 wasn’t perfect—scrambling for chairs at the buttonhole event will be remedied next year—but many have told us they are planning to return in 2015. Yay! The committee is already hard at work to make MWW15 a great one!

 

Welcome travel writer Pam Mandel

We’re just 30 days out from the Midwest Writers Workshop 2014, our 41st conference! Most years, we have some surprise experiences, extra activities, or additional people to announce after the brochure is completed. This year, we have a special guest, Pam Mandel. She’s a travel writer friend of our own Kelsey Timmerman and has signed up as an attendee.

Pam Mandel is a freelance writer and photographer. She has written travel stories for Conde Nast Traveler online, Afar, World Hum, AOL Travel, Gadling, 

Perceptive Travel, Lonely Planet, and several in-flight magazines and custom publications. She’s a two-time Solas Best Travel Writing Award winner and a surviving guidebook author. She was a very early adopter of blogging and social media, embracing new media in 1999 when it really was new and you had to code your own HTML. Her current blog,  Nerd’s Eye View, is ten years old. She’s spoken about social media and its use in travel storytelling at a dozen conferences, including SxSW, TBEX, BlogHer, and the Book Passage Travel Writers Conference. She lives with her Austrian husband in Seattle, WA, and plays ukulele with The Castaways, Seattle’s Loudest Ukulele Band.

We’re thrilled that Pam is attending and are finding ways our other attendees may benefit from her expertise. In the meantime, Cathy Shouse interviewed Pam here:

MWW: Why have you have decided to attend Midwest Writers Workshop and are you making special preparations as an attendee? We’re thrilled to have you, by the way.

PM: I’m excited about the opportunity to trade ideas and stories from the trenches with a bunch of new-to-me writers. I tend to stay in a rather travel-writing-centric bubble but that’s not necessarily the best strategy for facing the challenges of being a working writer–you don’t get as many new ideas when you’re all solving the same puzzles. So I’m looking forward to learning about how others find their way.

As for prep, mostly, I’m fretting about July in the Midwest. I’m not sure I have the right hair product for that kind of humidity.

MWW: What are a couple of ways that freelancing as a travel writer has changed since you began in the 90s? We’ve heard through the grapevine that you “can get a technophobic human blogging in about 20 minutes.” How can that be true?

PM: Heh. It IS true, and it’s because tech has evolved from super-complicated programmers-only tools to ones that anyone who can wrassle a document in Microsoft Word can use. (Okay, with large documents, Word is no picnic, but you get my meaning.) I wrote code by hand when I started out. While I still get under the hood sometimes, it’s not because I have to. I can prove this statement, by the way. Last year, at another conference, in the ten minutes during which another presenter was talking, I sat and helped a student launch a blog. Seriously. I’ve done this three years in a row. It looks like a magic trick, but I don’t even drive, I let the student do ALL the work.

As for how travel writing has changed . . . wow. Here’s a really cool thing that’s happened–anyone with an Internet connection can now share a travel story. The downside of this is that anyone with an Internet connection can now share a travel story. This means there are a million stories about Paris, Dar es Salaam, Honolulu, Perth . . . so it’s more critical than ever that writers take a strong point of view, have a unique voice, and check their facts. Because that’s how you stand out these days.

MWW: Speaking of blogging, which camp are you in–the one saying that the time has passed to start a blog or the one that says every writer needs a blog? And why?

PM: Yes. No. Both. It depends.

Once upon a time it was easy to be found when you started a blog, it was easy to organically develop a readership. If you built it, they came. Those days are gone. You have to strategize. But “the platform” is a critical element of marketing now. So yes, you should be online.

That said, if you REALLY don’t want to blog, I don’t think you should. I love social media, it comes naturally to me, it’s not a chore. If you’re not going to commit yourself to your blog, don’t bother. You’ll just have a dead blog.

This doesn’t mean you have to churn out stuff all the time, I know a fairly successful writer who updates his blog once a month, not much more than that. But his blog is a live thing, it’s not some static place that was last updated six months, a year ago.

In short, if you’re going to blog, go all in. Otherwise, don’t bother. Build a static website and leave it at that.

Elizabeth Berg: MWW Community Event

Midwest Writers Workshop

Features Author Elizabeth Berg 

for Special Presentation, Public Invited

Berg, ElizabethAcclaimed, bestselling author Elizabeth Berg will be the guest speaker during a special program at this year’s Midwest Writers Workshop (MWW) on the Ball State University campus. Berg’s presentation is set for 7 p.m. Friday, July 25 in Pruis Hall. The program is open to the public. Admission is free, but registration through Eventbrite is recommended. (Those registered for MWW14 are already registered!)

Eventbrite - ELIZABETH BERG  Behind the Page: An Intimate Look at a Writer's Life

Berg will speak about her life as a writer, starting from when she was five years old up to the present, when, even now, she says, “she is still five, really.”

The author of more than 20 novels, her latest Tapestry of Fortunes, Berg says she’s always felt the urge to write, and was just nine years old when she submitted her first piece of writing—a poem—for publication. It was rejected, which “hurt her feelings,” and that is why she waited 25 years before submitting her next piece. By then, as a mother of two young children, she sent an essay to Parents magazine. It was accepted, and the rest is history.

She credits her 10 years as a registered nurse as a kind of school for writing. Taking care of patients taught her about human nature, she says, particularly “about hope and fear and love and loss and regret and triumph and especially about relationships—all things that I tend to focus on in my work.”

Berg is often described as a storyteller with the ability to find the extraordinary in the mundane and to connect with readers by understanding what’s in their heart. It is often said that curling up with a Berg book is like spending time with an old friend. Entertainment Weekly has said, “Berg’s writing is to literature what Chopin’s études are to music—measured, delicate, and impossible to walk away from until their completion.”

Many of Berg’s books have been on the New York Times Bestseller list. Durable Goods and Joy School were both selected as one of the American Library Association’s best books of the year. Talk Before Sleep was shortlisted for the Abby (American Bookseller’s Book of the Year). Open House was an Oprah’s Book Club Selection. In 1997, Elizabeth won the New England Booksellers Award for her body of work.

Her book, The Art of Mending, was a choice for South Dakota’s “One Book.” She was made a “literary light” by the Boston Public Library, has been honored by the Chicago Public Library, and was given the AMC Cancer Research Center’s Illuminator Award for shedding light on breast cancer resulting in increased public awareness and concern. She adapted her novel The Pull of the Moon into a play, which has twice been performed in Chicago to sold-out audiences. Her article on a cooking school in Positano, Italy, which appeared in National Geographic Traveler magazine, won a NATJA award (North American Travel Journalists Association) and has been nominated for a Lowell Thomas award, results pending. Her books have been translated into 27 languages.

Her next book, The Bird Lover, is scheduled for release in the spring of 2015.

Since its founding in 1973, MWW has been devoted to providing writers of all stages in their career the opportunity to improve their craft, to associate with highly credentialed professionals, and to network with other writers. This is the first year that MWW is offering one of its conference’s events to the entire community. It is pleased to invite the general public to welcome the delightful Elizabeth Berg to Ball State.

Following her keynote address, many of her books will be available for purchase and she will have a book signing.

— Janis Thornton

Elizabeth Berg poster

Interview with poet Allison Joseph

Joseph, AllisonAllison Joseph is the author of What Keeps Us Here (Ampersand, 1992), Soul Train (Carnegie Mellon, 1997), In Every Seam (Pittsburgh, 1997),Imitation of Life (Carnegie Mellon, 2003) and Worldly Pleasures (Word Press, 2004). Her honors include the John C. Zacharis First Book Prize, fellowships from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers Conferences, and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Poetry. She is editor and poetry editor of Crab Orchard Review and director of the Young Writers Workshop, an annual summer residential creative writing workshop for high school writers. She holds the Judge Williams Holmes Cook Endowed Professorship. She is Director of the Southern Illinois University Carbondale MFA Program in Creative Writing.

Allison was interviewed by MWW committee member, Cathy Shouse.

MWWPlease let us know what types of poetry you write and give a short description of your career path, including how you got published and when, as well as your latest release.

AJI write all sorts of poems. I have published six books of poems and two chapbooks. My latest book is Trace Particles, a chapbook from Backbone Press.

MWW: How will your intensive session at MWW work? Will participants be doing any writing, for example?

AJ: Lots of reading and writing will take place. Lots of discussion about poetry.

MWW: What is the best tip you were ever given with regard to your writing career and why?

AJ: Read as much as possible.

MWW: Have writing conferences influenced your writing? If so, how?

AJ: Conferences provide community.

MWW: What are some ways all writers might benefit from your session, even if they don’t write poetry?

AJ: They will learn about lyricism, diction, rhythm and pacing–those skills are beneficial to all writers.

MWW: What are your thoughts on traditional publishing versus self publishing with regards to writing?

AJ: Poets have so many venues nowadays that self-publishing is not necessary. There are many ways to get published that involve cooperation and community. Self-publishing is actually an isolating move for a poet.

Allison will be teaching in Part I of the workshop on the topic, Reflections on the Contemporary OdeThis session will explore what an ode is, why contemporary poets have rediscovered this form, and why reading and writing odes should be a part of every writer’s practice. We’ll look at examples of this enchanting form, write new ones dedicated to our own personal inspirations, and get feedback on what makes an ode endure for both readers and writers.

During  Part II, Allison will be teaching on Revising Poems for Fun and Profit. This session will discuss how writing poems is fun. Revising poems is work. Learn how to revise poems so that they have a life beyond your own notebooks. Publication and performance to be discussed in this session.

Read some of Allison’s poems in Valparaiso Poetry Review.

Interview with Kelsey Timmerman: Turning Real Stories into a Real Career

Kelsey Timmerman is a traveler with a writing problem. He met the agent who sold his first book, Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes at the Midwest Writers’ Workshop in the summer of 2007. Kelsey’s latest book is Where Am I Eating? An Adventure Through the Global Food Economy. His writing has appeared in publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Condé Nast Portfolio and has aired on NPR. Kelsey is also the co-founder of the Facing Project, a nationwide storytelling project that activates writers to tell stories that strengthen community. He has spent the night in Castle Dracula in Romania, played PlayStation in Kosovo, farmed on four continents, taught an island village to play baseball in Honduras, and in another life, worked as a SCUBA instructor in Key West, Florida.

Kelsey will be leading the  Part I nonfiction intensive at MWW. We caught up with Kelsey for this week’s E-pistle.

MWWAt MWW you are teaching a nonfiction intensive session titled “Turning Real Stories into a Real Career.” Could fiction writers benefit from this intensive as well?

KT: Totally. I’m jealous of fiction writers because they can travel between their ears where they aren’t threatened by deadly venomous snakes, paramilitary forces, and Ghanaian death buses, all of which I have encountered. Also, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper. But from a career perspective, I often feel sorry for fiction writers. There are way fewer places to publish fiction. Nonfiction is always about real-world issues. However, fiction writers can leverage their real-world experiences and research surrounding these issues to get published in magazines, newspapers, and other outlets. Each published clip, besides being a great ego boost, is another shiny thing to pepper in your query letter to a future agent or editor. Nonfiction writing builds an author’s authority and platform. It also is more likely to pay! All writers can benefit from writing and publishing non-fiction.

MWWWalk us through your path to publishing.

KT: I graduated with a degree in anthropology, which I quickly put to use as a SCUBA diving instructor and world traveler. I started to write about my experiences and shortly after had a weekly travel column in the Key West The Newspaper. I got paid $0 per column. It was the world’s most expensive hobby, and I love it! That column was my grad school. I had to write 1,000 publishable words every single week. It was my reason to write. (In my session we’ll be exploring our individual reasons to write that keep us writing.) After two years of writing the column, I reworked some of them and they got picked up by publications that people had heard of and that paid. And then, of course, I went to Bangladesh because my underwear was made there and I wanted to meet the people who made them. This was followed by trips to Cambodia, China, and Ethiopia. I had an agent interested in my Where Am I Wearing? idea as a book, and then I met another agent at my first MWW, with whom I eventually signed. A few months later, I had a book deal. Three months later I finished the book. A year later that book was out, and suddenly, after eight years of working at the writing thing, I had a career as a writer and as a speaker. And because everyone always wants to know. . . . Yes, this is what I do for a living.  I support my wife, who is the real hero in all of this, and our two kids.

MWW: You’ve been a column writer, freelancer, author, and speaker. Is it important for writers to diversify?

KT: You bet! I looked at my career as a multi-front attack. I advanced the column thing as far as I could, and then I shifted to freelance work. Freelance clips led to books, which led to more freelancing work and speaking engagements. They all feed one another. Yet, if I would’ve said, “I’m only a columnist,” and given up when my travel column literally  had been rejected hundreds of times, I would be living someone else’s dream. You are a writer. You aren’t just a fiction writer, a YA author, or a literary journalist. You are a storyteller.

MWW: What will students walk away with from your intensive?

KT: I’m not sure this has been done before at MWW, but I will personally give you a, “you’ll get published guarantee.” Every attendee will leave with clear goals and a plan of attack to execute those goals. If after one year, a student believes he or she followed the plan and has not been published, I will personally reimburse them the $150 fee for Part I.  (Note this isn’t an MWW guarantee; in fact, Jama will probably try to talk me out of this. This is me paying you back if you aren’t happy.) You. Will. Get. Published. I guarantee it! The bar for nonfiction writing is rather low.  We’ll talk about how to exceed expectations and share a few tools from fiction writing. We want your work to stand out. You have to write well before anyone will publish anything. Next, we’ll explore why you write, and how to discover your unique areas of expertise. And then, we’ll lay out a plan of who you’ll pitch (agents, newspapers, magazines, websites, etc), how you want to be published, and set tangible writing and career development goals. We’ll work through a writer’s business plan and we might even bust out a spreadsheet or two. Writing careers rarely happen by accident.

MWW: What are you looking forward to the most about this summer’s conference?

KT: I grew as a writer by attending MWW, and I really enjoy watching as others grow their love for writing and their writing careers. For me, the conference is less of a workshop than it is a family reunion. I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends and making new ones. Connect with Kelsey:  Blog / Twitter / Facebook

Being brave is part of chasing your dream of being a writer. Be brave. Register today for #mww14!

Part I Intensive Sessions are filling up! Don’t miss this outstanding faculty, this information-packed schedule, this opportunity to pitch to agents, this time of networking and participating in all that is the MWW Community. Register today!