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Looking for ways to turn one story into many? Lou Harry has tips!

Meet Mini-conference faculty Lou Harry!

Lou Harry has written for more than fifty publications ranging from The Sondheim Review to This Old House and from Variety to Men’s Health. His books are as wide ranging, including The High-Impact Infidelity Diet: A novel (Random House and optioned by Warner Bros.), Creative Block (Running Press), Kid Culture (Cider Mill Press) and the novelization of the awful movie Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (Penguin). Collectively they have sold more than a million copies. His produced plays include Lightning and Jellyfish, Clutter or The Moving Walkway Will Soon Be Coming to an End, Midwestern Hemisphere, and Going…Going…Gone: The Live Auction Comedy, recently finishing its fifth year in Indianapolis. A member of the Dramatists Guild, he’s also a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and a board member of the American Theatre Critics Association, where he chairs its New Play Committee.

During the MWW Super mini-conference hands-on Friday morning session, Lou will teach “Nonfiction, Writing About Everything.” Yes, Lou will do a quick update on his goal to write a book for every category in the Dewey Decimal System. But, more importantly, he’ll explore ways to spark an interest in subjects you may not have previously thought about. “This workshop,” Lou explains, “will help you work on interview techniques, pitch angles, the search for leads (both the story idea kind and the first paragraphs kind), and ways to turn one story into many.” Lou will also review a targeted pitch letter or up to two pages (double-spaced/12 font) of a manuscript. (Email midwestwriters@yahoo.com with “Lou Harry nonfiction submission” in subject line, postmarked by July 2.)

If you are interested in play writing, Lou is also teaching the session “Creating Life on the Stage – Play writing for the novelists, short story writer, journalist and/or poet.” You’ve told stories. But perhaps you haven’t tried telling stories on stage. Through example and exercise, you’ll look at the differences and similarities between constructive narrative for readers and for actors. You’ll look at basic mechanics, of course, but also explore how to create stories that make sense and belong on stage–whether those come from preexisting material or are created uniquely for the stage.

For our Friday evening activities, Lou will host “Somewhere in This Book: A Live Game Show.” How fun! He’s asking everyone to bring a book–any book–to this event. Could be a novel, a history text, a cookbook, whatever. When a category is called (Say, “A Really Awkward Pick Up Line” or “What Not To Say On a Job Interview”), you have a set amount of time to flip through your book and find a line or two that fits the category–in a serious or hilarious way. Then we find the best choices, narrow down the field, bring some contestants up front for finals, and otherwise have a blast of a time.

Former MWW intern Caroline Delk asked Lou a few interview questions for some advice to the attendees and to help us learn a bit more about him as a writer and faculty member.

MWW: How do you get yourself psyched up for a writing session? Music? Meditation? Crossword puzzle? A full tank of high-octane coffee? Yoga? Or do you just sit down at the computer and have at it? Advice? 

LH: No warm ups. But I do try to start by editing–cleaning up something I’ve previously been working on or putting in changes I made on paper the previous session. That way, I’ve jumpstarted my brain into writing mode.

MWW: Describe for me your “writing space.” Messy? What books are within arm’s reach? Laptop or desktop? Dedicated office, spare bedroom or dining room table?

LH: I’m lucky to have a dedicated office–although it’s also dedicated to my board game collection and to gym equipment that I don’t use often enough. And to the cats’ litter boxes. My desk has piles of papers, not always organized–I’m usually working on a book project, at least one play project, plus multiple freelance pieces at any given time. I try to clean up whenever a story is done but I’m not always successful. Plus, my cats have a tendency to jump onto the desk and slide on papers, creating their own organizational system.

MWW: We’ve heard that a writer shouldn’t ask friends, family, and colleagues to read and make suggestions on a manuscript-in-progress. But we’ve also heard that a lot of successful writers have “beta readers.” What are they; what do they do; do you have one; and how can I find one?

LH: If it’s a new market, my wife will often read a piece just so I can avoid embarrassing typos. Many of my books are written in collaboration so there is an automatic back and forth to help improve the work. When it comes to plays, I always reach a point where I need to hear the work with actors, so I’ll cast it with actors whose work I know and have what I call a living-room read. After that, I may pull together a reading at a local college or bookstore, both of which have been very receptive. The caution is that it’s likely to be friends and family listening–and you are robbing them of the chance to experience it first in a full production. Most of what I learn about what the play needs, though, comes from just listening during the reading. I’ve made the mistake of being the person reading stage directions and that reducing my chance of really hearing the work and picking up the signposts over what’s not needed and what’s still needed.

MWW: Talk about manuscript rejection. How do you handle it? At what point should you give up on a manuscript and move on to the next project?

LH: As someone who has served as an editor, I understand the need to reject 99% of what comes across your desk. Rejection means I either sent it to the wrong market, the market has material too similar already, the timing was off, or the piece just wasn’t very good. Sometimes the form just wasn’t correct. I’ve turned two unsold novels into plays, one of which landed a professional production. Your poem may want to be a short story. Your adult novel may want to be YA. By the time you get a rejection, you should be working on your next piece anyway. After the rejection, try to read it as objectively as possible to figure out why it might not have worked for that market.

 

Come meet Lou!

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To register for MWW Super-Mini, go to www.midwestwriters.org

We have UPDATED the full schedule for the Super Mini-conference, read here.

To review the faculty bios, read here.

Do you wish to write in a way that touches readers and yourself?

That’s the question J. Brent Bill will discuss in his hands-on, small class session on Friday morning at MWW’s Super Mini-conference:

Writing from the Heart: Soulful Creativity – That’s the kind of writing that makes Anne Lamott’s essays, Phil Gulley’s Harmony tales, and Barbara Brown Taylor’s memoirs so appealing. Brent Bill’s own writing has been described by Publishers Weekly as being “Like a neighborly conversation across a kitchen table.” Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, you want to write from the heart and not just from the head. This workshop offers tips and techniques for connecting with your writer’s heart and how to put your heart on paper. You will spend time writing, using exercises that will help you uncover the deep themes and concerns that will bring your writing to life. Brent will also look at the practical side of getting such writing published.

With more than twenty books published since 1983, Brent has learned a thing or three about writing. His titles include Life Lessons from a Bad Quaker: A Humble Stumble Toward Simplicity and Grace, Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment; and Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality. He’s also a writing coach, editor, photographer, and retreat leader. A MWW alumnus, Brent lives on Ploughshares Farm – fifty acres of Indiana farmland being reclaimed for native hardwood forests and warm season prairie grasses.

Former MWW intern Amanda Byk asked Brent a few interview questions to help us learn more about him as a writer and faculty member.

MWW: How do you get yourself psyched up for a writing session? Music? Meditation? Crossword puzzle? A full tank of high-octane coffee? Yoga? Or do you just sit down at the computer and have at it? Advice?

JBB: My intention is always to just sit down and get to it. But the truth is I usually spend time checking email and Facebook, going for a fresh glass of ice water, doing some “research” on Google, and the like. The typical writer’s procrastination tools. When I do start writing, I usually write one or two hours straight without much deviating from the actual writing. Having a deadline helps me focus and get right down to the task of writing without having to check email, play solitaire, and so forth.

MWW: Describe for me your “writing space.” Messy? What books are within arm’s reach? Laptop or desktop? Dedicated office, spare bedroom or dining room table?

JBB: I have a dedicated writing office on the second floor of our post and beam home. It has a window overlooking the woods and prairie. Floor to ceiling bookshelves line one wall — stuffed with everything including poetry, humor, religion, books on writing, autographed copies of books, books by friends, miscellaneous nonfiction, miscellaneous fiction, photography books, and more. The other long walls hold two file cabinets, a map chest (where I store my writing and photographic paper and photographic prints), and an oversize desk containing my computer, monitor, two printers, an external hard drive, and a scanner. The walls hold various art pieces, photographs I’ve taken, framed book covers, and other miscellany. In addition to books, the bookshelves also contain such arcane things as Old Quaker Whisky bottles, models of MGs and other cars I’ve owned, Mr. Bill figurines, and fighting Quaker puppet, and other silliness.

MWW: When you hit the wall and nothing is working on your computer screen, how do you clear your head and refresh? Do you power down and go to a movie, or do you just keep pounding the keys? Advice?

JBB: This rarely happens to me. Once I’m in the flow, the words and sentences usually come easily. On those occasions where I’m stuck, I will either go for a walk in our woods and think or I’ll fire up the John Deere 790 and go do some farm work. Certain farm chores involving the tractor allow me to work on two planes at the same time — one paying attention to the tractor work and the other allowing my mind to problem solve my writing issue. They’re both work, but call for solutions from different parts of my brain. My family jokes that I write some of my best stuff whilst on the tractor.

MWW: For writers who are unsure about which classes to attend at the July Super Mini-conference, what criteria should they use in making their choices? 

JBB: One obvious piece of advice is to attend a workshop that most closely aligns with the kind of writing you want to do. A second, and I think just as valuable, is to sign up for a workshop completely outside of your primary interest. I did that when I signed up for my first MWW conference in the late 1980s — a poetry workshop. I like poetry, but had no intention of writing any poetry. The instructor, Mary Brown, was insightful and her exercises and information on writing poetry were very helpful to my writing (and by then I’d written six books). The lessons I learned in that class took my writing deeper in ways that I doubt any other course could have.

MWW: Can you tell us more about what your Friday session will be about? What can writers expect to come away with from it? 

JBB: There’s been an explosion in spiritual writing of late. While the number of mainstream Christian periodicals has declined, new publications have sprung up. My own spiritual writing has appeared in places as diverse as Quaker magazines, AARP: The Magazine, and Sufi Journal. In this workshop, we’ll spend some talking about the kind of spiritual writing participants want to do and then look at possible outlets that would fit their writing.

Come meet Brent!

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To register for MWW Super-Mini, go to www.midwestwriters.org

Scholarship application information (postmarked June 15), here.
_______________________________________________________________
We have UPDATED the full schedule for the Super Mini-conference, read here.
To review the faculty bios, read here.

Writing from the Dreamscape and Other Avenues toward Writing

What will you discover about yourself and your writing when you come to the Super mini-conference?

MWW Board member and poet Michael Brockley shared his thoughts… Writing from the Dreamscape and Other Avenues toward Writing about What You Want to Know

Although I am a poet, I try to put myself in positions to learn beyond the scope of the alchemical secrets we learn in poetry workshops. Humor classes always pique my interest as do sessions on tall tales, flash fiction, translating, writing as a form of therapy and prose poetry. The latter changed my literary life. And to this day, I regret having missed a workshop in Indianapolis which was advertised as an exploration of the role recurring images serve in one’s work.

I am looking forward to this year’s Super Mini-conference in Muncie because it is constructed in such a way as to promote not only writing, but writing about what I want to know. Workshops that feel as if the thing I want to know is within reach. I encourage myself to seek writing insights from sources outside my Pandora’s box because such genre-hopping forces me to write outside of my comfort zone. To reveal to myself this unknown unknown. This makes, for instance, Lucrecia Guerrero’s From Where You Dream so enticing. The possibility of opening a door in my brain that puts me at the threshold of a new direction, something darker or funnier or maybe something that puts me in an unfurnished room in my brain. Maurice Broaddus with his World Building seminar might provide more environmental roughage to nurture my Aloha Shirt Man’s surreal adventures or stoke the apocalyptic world my anonymous second person singular protagonist navigates.

But enough about me. What about you? Do you have a mystery detective who could benefit from ecstatic moments such as might be drawn from Brent Bill’s Soulful Creativity workshop? Maybe your romantic lead has a teenage son or daughter who sounds too much like your favorite rock-and-roll singer who is pushing 50. Thinking Like a Teenager, Barb Shoup’s offering, could jack up the parent-adolescent strife to such an extent that it jazzes your story with a new dimension or new character. For you see, once changes are introduced to your comfort zone you have no choice but to turn the handle on the Unchosen Door, the one you’ve always wanted to open. The light under that door shines with a color you can’t name and the sounds you hear might be grief or joy. Open the door and take a vacation through your dreamscape with your unconscious sidekick. Discover the worlds yet unbuilt that only you can raise. The seeds of writing within your soul await. Think once more in the way you did before you had a driver’s license. When you first began defining love for yourself. Come to the MWW Super Mini-conference on July 27 and July 28 at the Ball State Alumni Center in Muncie, Indiana. Come to begin your first (or your next) novel and leave with the passion to write about everything.

*****

Mike echoes what Brent Bill responded to this question: For writers who are unsure about which classes to attend at the July MWW Super Mini-conference, what criteria should they use in making their choices?

Brent: “One obvious piece of advice is to attend a workshop that most closely aligns with the kind of writing you want to do. A second, and I think just as valuable piece, is to sign up for a workshop completely outside of your primary interest. I did that when I signed up for my first MWW conference in the late 1980s — a poetry workshop. I like poetry, but had no intention of writing any poetry. The instructor, Mary Brown, was insightful and her exercises and information on writing poetry were very helpful to my writing (and by then I’d written six books). The lessons I learned in that class took my writing deeper in ways that I doubt any other course could have.”

Come and discover!

_______________________________________________________________

To register for MWW Super-Mini, go to here.

Scholarship applications information, here.
_______________________________________________________________
We have UPDATED the full schedule for the Super Mini-conference, read here.
To review the faculty bios, read here.

MWW Super Mini-conference, July 27-28

MWW Super Mini-conference — July 27-28 at the Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, Indiana. Friday 8:30 am through Saturday 12:30 pm.  A dynamic day-and-a-half with a decidedly different structure—shorter, smaller, less expensive, with a strong emphasis on helping you reach your writing goals.

This MWW Craft + Community super mini is designed for writers of every level in their careers.

Whether you’re a published author or a novice exploring writing for the first time, you’ll find your place here, among teachers and fellow writers in a small group environment. It’s time to grow your network and nurture your identity as a writer. We have mentors to help.

Press the reset button.

At MWW Craft + Community, you’ll experience a day and a half—long enough to get away and refocus your energy on your writing, yet short enough to accommodate your busy schedule. Come enjoy the camaraderie and receive useful guidance!

This “super mini” offers eight in-depth, hands-on interactive, small class size sessions taught by experienced, accomplished, and professional faculty:

  • Holly Miller: Manuscript Makeover
  • Matthew Clemens: Developmental Editing
  • Brent Bill: Writing from the Heart: Soulful Creativity
  • Lou Harry: Nonfiction, Writing About Everything
  • Larry D. Sweazy – Fiction, Writing Your First Novel
  • Barbara Shoup – Think Like a Teenager
  • Lucrecia Guerrero – From Where You Dream
  • Maurice Broaddus – World Building: How to Out-Imagine Your Reader

Our programming focuses on key areas such as craft improvement, genre knowledge, finding critique partners, and forming writing support groups to help improve your writing. Get feedback from experts and friendly peers. Sharing your work and reading your work will allow you to pinpoint sagging plot lines, breaks in character and more. The give-and-take, along with honest feedback, is a win for all.

We’ll have fun activities to help you find a writing community. Writing is a solitary act, a leap of faith in which we work to bring the ideas in our head, our own experiences, our research and our true and imaginary tales to life on the page. Because we labor alone, we need a community of honest supporters who can help us to see what works in our stories and what doesn’t.

MWW Craft + Community wants to give you that community. You’ll return home with new skills and insight into your writing. You’ll return home with new writing friends.

And there’s a space waiting for you.

Secure your spot today.

Cost: $199

REGISTER

[For a statement from our board, read here.]

Writing from the Heart: Soulful Creativity with J. Brent Bill

Online courses provide great opportunities for everyone who wants to learn something. From the comfort of your home, or even the comfort of your jammies, you can learn on your own time schedule and participate in classes that will help take your writing to the next level.
Our newest MWW Ongoing course is Writing from the Heart: Soulful Creativity taught by J. Brent Bill. The course starts March 26 and will be available through July.

Who This Course Will Help

This course is for both unpublished and published authors who wish to write in a way that connects with readers – and themselves – at the deepest levels. Many writers are technically sound and fine thinkers. True connection with readers requires more, however. The secret to making that connection, whether you write fiction or non-fiction, is writing from the heart.

Many of us approach writing by wondering what readers, editors, and publishers want. Instead, this course will focus on what interests us as writers. What things are we most passionate about and do we dare write about them?

This course offers tips and techniques for connecting with your writer’s heart – and discovering themes and concerns that will bring your writing to life.

 

What This Course Teaches

This four-week course offers practical ways for involving head, heart, and craft in writing – with a particular emphasis on tapping into your heart. Each lesson will include opening thoughts by Brent and then lead into exercises regarding that week’s topic.

The course officially begins on Monday, March 26, when the first full unit will become available to all students. Lessons related to the week’s theme will appear on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Units 2-4 will be available on the following Mondays: April 2, 9, 16.

Unit One: Heart and Mind

The first week will explore how we link head and craft with heart. It uses concrete exercises that will tap into what you know – and don’t know you know. We’ll also look at the places where heart and head intersect so that we can produce powerful writing.

Unit Two: Heart and Body

In our second week, we will go deeper in exploring the personal by adding body to heart. We will work with exercises that explore like-heartedness, but not necessarily like-mindedness as a way to connect with readers whose life experiences are different from our own.

Unit Three: Putting it All Together: Heart, Body, and Mind

During week three, you’ll delve into a deep personal experience from the perspective of heart instead of head. You’ll learn how to bring all the senses (physical, emotional, mental) to bear in bringing the story to life.

Unit Four: Going Long and Deep

Week four will pull all the learning from the first three weeks into a longer writing project where you can draw on what you’ve experienced. As with the previous weeks, it will include practical tips and guided exercises.

 

What This Course Includes

Weekly Assignments for completion at your own pace—designed to help you put what you learn into action.

You’ll also:

  • Receive suggestions for reading and other resources for you to go deeper in writing from the heart
  • Be able to chat with Brent in real time (video, audio, and text) during his weekly online office hours (2 separate hour per week)
  • Have access to a dedicated private Facebook page where you can (if you choose)
    • ask questions and engage in discussions with Brent and the other course participants. Brent will check the page daily for questions and comments.
    • share your work based on the exercise and invite feedback from the other course participants

A review (via email) by Brent of up to ten pages of a manuscript in which you’ve put some of the learning from this course into practice.

Cost: $150. Register HERE

About the Instructor

With more than twenty books and numerous articles and short stories published since the 1980s, Brent has learned a thing or three about writing. His book titles include Life Lessons from a Bad Quaker: A Humble Stumble Toward Simplicity and Grace, Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment; and Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality. He’s a writing coach, editor, photographer, and retreat leader.

One reviewer said of Brent that he’s “… a substantial spiritual guide, but never in a flashy way. Think of – oh, perhaps something like Mister Rogers Meets the Dalai Lama.” Brent is a member of Spirituality & Practice’s Living Spiritual Teachers Project.

A MWW alumnus, Brent lives on Ploughshares Farm – 50 acres of Indiana farmland being reclaimed for native hardwood forests and warm season prairie grasses.

Book Review: THE DRUMMOND GIRLS by Mardi Jo Link

[This post is the sixth in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

The Drummond Girls: A Review With Utmost Respect For The Women and Their Stories

Mardi Jo Link’s memoir, The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance, is a textbook example of why it is difficult to maintain friendships, but also, why it is important to do so. For an accurate comparison, imagine Thelma and Louise, but with eight women instead of two and “no cops on the [Drummond] island.” The possibilities for these ladies’ shenanigans were basically endless, but the fun and friendships cannot last forever without being tested by some things. Heart problems, tough pregnancies, rotten marriages and subsequent divorces, children growing up, and parents growing old are just some of the hardships these women face during their two decades of travel and companionship; even so, the harsh nature of Drummond island was no match for these women, and now, the world knows it too.​

This memoir was insightfully tongue-in-cheek at times, most memorably when introducing the eight ladies. “Susan is in the kitchen…mixing a cocktail. It might be her second Maker’s and Caffeine-Free Diet; it might be her fifth. Two decades in, yet it is impossible for me to tell which,” and, “I am older now than [Mary Lynn] was when she died, and I silently vow to never get myself invited to one of those [cardiac events],” are among my favorite remarks in this book, as well as my favorite introductions ever. After going on the first adventure with the original four Drummond Girls, I was not sure that the hijinks could get any better, but I am ecstatic to say I was wrong.

Link writes, “When I was just out of college, I’d always thought that by the time I reached a certain age, say fifty, my life would be pretty much set. I’d…have a couple good friends, a successful career, and my life would be settled into a comforting predictability.” Throughout the memoir, Link takes the reader on 13 trips to Drummond Island–some include more description about the trip itself, others include more about the ladies’ lives. As I progressed through the pages, they progressed in years, and the story slowly turned away from my experiences as a 20-something college student. The more I read, the more I could see my mother in the remaining pages telling me about her own experiences with her friends; this is why I fell in love with the Drummond Girls.

These eight ladies are a reminder that friendships foster over time, and when they foster, they are for life. They become family. Link continues the previous quote, “But predictability was not something I valued in my twenties, so why did I think it would be desirable thirty years into the future? Like that one, most of the assumptions I’d made back then turned out to be wrong…I could accept all of that uncertainty because I had seven constants in my life. I had the Drummond Girls. And they had me.”

The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance is first and foremost a story about friendship: the kind of friendship that needs to be documented. These eight ladies have had their share of ups and downs, as is wont to do in friendships, but they have weathered the proverbial storm together. Link’s memoir is a testament to the love and dedication people can give to one another. The Drummond Girls were #friendshipgoals before the pound sign became the hashtag, and most people can only aspire to live it up as much as these women have in their lifetimes. I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed a memoir as much as this one, and the only way to truly appreciate their story is to read it and then live it for yourself. Find your Drummond Girls and do not let fear stop you.

I’ve already found mine.

Picture

Thank you for reading.

Title: The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance
Author: Mardi Jo Link
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Copyright: 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4555-5474-4
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Creative Nonfiction
Page Count: 269

Find it on Amazon

MWW friends & past faculty in anthology: Not Like the Rest of Us

ANNOUNCING …

Indiana Writers Center has a publication for the book lovers on your holiday gift list! Not Like the Rest of Us: An Anthology of Contemporary  Indiana Writers  features stories, poems, and essays more than 75 Indiana writers, including MWW past faculty and friends:

Kelsey Timmerman, “The Labors of Our Fathers”

Cathy Day, “Not Like the Rest of Us: A Hoosier Named Cole Porter”

Philip Gulley, “The Hoosier Identity”

Barbara Shoup, “Working a Jigsaw”

Eugene Gloria, “Alfonso Street”

Karen Kovacik, “Assemblage: Lake County”

David Shumate, “Bringing Things Back From the Woods”

Kevin Stein, “The Tragedies”

Lucrecia Guerrero, “Rings”

Michael Martone, “Contributor’s Notes”

Susan Neville, “Jubilee”

Jill Christman, “That’s What You Remember [An Essay in Third Person]”

Mark Neely, “Extremist Sonnet”

Sean Lovelace, “Elvis Presley Visits His Red Harley”

 

This is a great read for the coming wintry days. Now at a special holiday price! Purchase copies for your friends (and one for yourself)!

 

Q&A with Kelly O’Dell Stanley

Kelly O’Dell Stanley is full of doubt and full of faith. In 2013, Kelly’s essay “Amazing Grace” won the Writer’s Digest Inspirational Writing Competition, and she’s the author of Praying Upside Down and Designed to Pray (coming in August 2016). With more than two decades of experience in advertising, three teen and young adult kids, and a husband of 25 years, she’s learned to look at life in unconventional ways-often upside down. She enjoys living in small-town Indiana, where she operates her own graphic design business, reads too much and cleans too little, and thrives on coffee and deep discussions with friends.

MWW committee member Cathy Shouse recently interviewed Kelly about her MWW sessions.

*  *  *

MWW: What are some ways attendees can benefit from attending MWW this summer? How has your attendance, prior to coming on to the committee in 2015, influenced your career? You seem to have “colored outside the lines” and found friendships and collaborations that have propelled your career. Any tips on how others can do that?

KOS: Nearly everything I know about this industry–and writing–I learned at MWW (no exaggeration). Flash fiction sessions taught me to get right to the heart of a story; creative journalism sessions taught me better ways to tell true stories; a storyboarding intensive taught me about structure–and I’ve learned tons about platform building and promotion. The broader your exposure to multiple genres and techniques, the better your writing will be.

But the reason I love MWW the most? The friends I’ve made here. A handful of us connected deeply and quickly. They’re good writers, and they’ve helped me improve, but more than anything, their friendship makes my life richer. We write in different genres but support and admire each other’s work–pushing each other to get better, to keep working, and not to give up when things aren’t going as well as we’d like. Coming from different backgrounds, too, we are able to offer new insights into each other’s work.

The best tip I can offer is this: when you meet people (successful authors or those starting out; agents, editors, publishers, or what have you), don’t think about what they can do for you. Instead, be genuine in your interest and friendship. If you have anything to offer them (reviews of a book, sharing something on social media), do so without expecting a return favor. Be real, generous–and yourself. Ultimately, it’s likely that some of these people will help you in very real ways (like endorsements, guest blog posts, etc.). But that can’t be your motivation or you’ll never truly connect with them.

For example, I first met Elizabeth Berg at a writing workshop in Italy. I went to learn about fiction; instead, she pushed me to face my grief and loss of faith, and that experience resulted in an essay that won the inspirational writing category of the Writer’s Digest competition–and led to an endorsement from Elizabeth for my first book. I didn’t go into it expecting anything, just expressing my admiration for her work and being open to learning. But what I gained is immeasurable.

MWW: Your debut book, Praying Upside Down: A Creative Prayer Experience to Transform Your Time with God, had an amazing review by Elizabeth Berg, the award-winning novelist who spoke at MWW in 2015.

“Like the books of Anne Lamott, so full of honest and soulful searching, Kelly Stanley’s Praying Upside Down takes as its launch pad the precepts of the Christian faith. But what is offered here can apply to anyone, regardless of their faith–or lack thereof. What this book does is offer ways to learn and practice a humble kind of self-inventory, leading to forgiveness and generosity toward others as well as toward oneself. I found Kelly’s spiritual journey compelling and her voice clear, engaging, and irresistible.” (Elizabeth Berg)

Please give us a thumbnail sketch of how this unique book, which could only be created by a writer who is also an artist, went from idea to publication? Plus, how did it make you feel to be compared to Anne Lamott, who is so admired in your genre?

KOS: I was giddy when I got Elizabeth Berg’s review. My main goal in Praying Upside Down was to be true to my faith and accurately relate my experiences, but to do so in such a way that it was not off-putting to those who are not Christians. To get such a great review from a mainstream, New York Times bestselling novelist–and then to have her compare me to the person about whom I’ve always said, “If I could write like anyone, it would be Anne Lamott,” well, let’s just say there were a lot of tears that day. The good kind.

So, what is Praying Upside Down? When you turn an image upside down to copy it, you’ll get a more accurate result. When an image is upside down, it frees our minds from defining it, so we see what is really there, not what we expected to see. When my husband and I owned two houses for two years because we couldn’t sell the first, I started praying for the woman who would someday buy my house, and doing so changed everything for me. By taking myself out of the equation, I could see other things happening, and in the end, I believe I saw so many things God did in the process that I would have missed had I been determined that answered prayer could only look a certain way.

One day I saw that I had been praying upside down, much like an artist might draw upside down, and I realized nearly everything I know about art applies to prayer. At MWW 2011, I decided to turn that idea into a book, and in August 2012, right after MWW, I’d completed the book proposal and several chapters so I submitted to three agents. Several months later, I signed with one of them (Blythe Daniel), and in January of 2013 got offers from two publishers. Manuscript was due by end of the year and my book released in May 2015–it was a long wait, but I made the right choice because my publisher is so great to work with. In the end, my book turned out to be about 90% memoir and about 10% practical application. Most chapters contain a prayer palette, which offers creative suggestions for implementing the different artistic concepts described in terms of prayer–things like white space, composition, perspective, using the grid method, sketching, and so on.

MWW: From what we’ve heard, sometimes getting that second book contract can be as difficult as the first. For your second book, Designed to Pray: Creative Ways to Engage with God, which releases August 1st, how was your path to publication easier, if it was?

KOS: My experience defied every expectation of what is supposed to happen. Since I was a first-time author, my publisher wanted to see six months of sales figures before considering another book proposal. My book came out in May; in early June, my publisher emailed my agent. They’d teamed up with Women of Faith for two new books, and would I write one? And could I turn it in in two months? When they described the concept they had in mind–which was an idea I had described to a friend a few weeks earlier (but hadn’t mentioned to anyone in publishing)–I said yes. When I first hung up from the call with my agent, Blythe Daniel, there were tears then, too. Seems like a pattern with me. Don’t let me near Hallmark movies, either, or it could really get ugly.

Designed to Pray is a really different kind of book and was a creative challenge. Technically it’s a Bible study workbook. Each of the eight chapters begins with an essay on a new topic-praying like a child, overcoming obstacles, getting creative. The remaining days of each week are made up of a wide variety of practical exercises to help people apply those concepts, discover new truths about their faith and their prayer life, and explore prayer to broaden their definition of what it can be. These include writing, doodling, looking up Bible verses, coloring pages, filling in charts, and making things. I wrote it, but the biggest challenge was creating 56 different activities, designing them in order to lead people to unique results, and finding and suggesting visuals for all of the exercises. It was crazy and fast and complicated–and boy, was it fun.

MWW: Your session about finding and holding on to inspiration talks about “inspirational” writing. What are some challenges people writing “inspirational” face and how would you define the genre? Specifically, what types of writers will benefit? Is this all about religion? I’ve heard debates about what makes something “inspirational,” so am curious to get your take on it.

KOS: Inspirational writing doesn’t have to be religious, but most Christian publishing falls under that category. I guess I’d simply define it as writing that inspires, or a story with an uplifting purpose or intent. Although my writing is mostly about faith, I hope my sessions will appeal to all those who write to inspire others (whether that’s through a biography or fiction or whatever). We’ll talk about establishing credibility; maintaining a balance between your public and private faith (if that applies); the responsibility to authentically and factually relay our stories; and being sensitive when writing for an audience that spans denominations or religions.

I think the greatest challenge we face is maintaining authenticity. As writers of faith, specifically, I think we’re held to a higher standard in terms of living the type of life we are presenting in our work. I can’t write about prayer without actively and intentionally praying on a regular basis. I can’t give my take on the Bible without having read and studied carefully. No one is standing over me supervising me, but my faith is the most important part of who I am, and I want to get it right–or my readers will have no reason to read my books. All good writers know their subject matter, so in that respect it’s no different than what any other writer does. But in order to have any success whatsoever, I have to be as real as possible. Because readers will see right through it if I’m not.

MWW: I followed your journey through several rewrites (or revisions?) of your first book, which you shared on your Facebook page. How difficult was that time for you, what was involved and what motivated you to stay the course? Also, do you have any memorable reactions from strangers that have been part of your reward?

KOS: Tyndale has some extraordinary editors, and I was paired with a woman who totally gets what I’m trying to do in my writing. I’ll admit, I cried (devastated, heartbroken, sad tears) when I got the first round of changes from her. So I had a big glass of wine and watched TV until I fell into bed, resolutely refusing to think about it. But when I sat down at the computer the next day, I saw that they weren’t criticizing my work but making suggestions for clarity, not correcting mistakes as much as tightening and strengthening the words that were there. When I finished, I saw how much better my book was because of it–and I felt as though I’d just completed a masters’ course in creative writing.

People have been so good about contacting me and telling me what stories touched them, or how my book changed their prayer lives or reassured them that they were not alone. The messages from people asking me to pray for them are the most moving. When I think about what it would take for someone to reach out to a stranger–to trust me, based solely on the words I put on the page, to help them with something personal and important (and often, something they haven’t shared with people close to them)–that’s when I stop and give thanks for what I get to do. It shows me I’m exactly where I want to be.

MWW: For your MWW session “Embracing creativity in nonfiction,” what is a way, or a technique, you’ll be sharing that might help attendees to catch an editor’s eye?

KOS: I plan to discuss types of brainstorming and making connections between different things, because generating ideas is the basis for everything we do–marketing, publicity, the writing itself. We’ll talk about creative structures or frameworks for the story, ways to get an editor’s attention in the book proposal, how to reach and define your target audience, and ideas to implement after you have a book published or want to grow your platform.

People think of fiction as the place to be creative, but nonfiction benefits just as much from creative approaches. Even nonfiction writing itself is creativity–it’s the act of creating something that didn’t exist in that form before, of telling a true story in an interesting way. In fiction, writers do character studies–we will discuss our audiences in a similar way. Good fiction keeps upping the stakes; in nonfiction, the equivalent is adding value to the reader. Bringing in different techniques and approaches will help your work stand out.

MWW: To wrap this up, the following questions are just for fun:

Netflix or Prime or???

Usually a book, but I DVR a handful of shows and watch Netflix sometimes. Or I did, until we lost the remote this week. So I’m 100% back to books.

Coffee or tea?

Coffee–strong, preferably dark roast Sumatra with lots of brown sugar. Or real Italian espresso.

E-books or paper?

Both, depending on where I’m reading. An iPad is awfully convenient to prop up beside me while I eat breakfast or lunch, so I lean in that direction unless I can get a signed paper copy or know I’m going to want to mark key passages. The night I finished the first book of a series at 10:30 and realized I could download the next book and start reading right away (rather than driving an hour to Indy the next day or waiting for UPS to deliver), I was sold.

MAC or PC?

Mac, of course, says this iPhone, iPad, Mac Book Air and Mac Pro owner. No question.

MWW16 Registration Now Open!

Room to grow!

If you’ve been part of Midwest Writers Workshop in recent years, you know all about our growing pains. With our ever-surging enrollment we’ve often had to cap registration early, shoehorn extra chairs into classrooms, and designate quiet corners in noisy spaces for writers’ one-on-one appointments with editors and agents.

So, this year we’re taking a giant leap to the next level where the operative words are “NEW” and “MORE.” Let’s start with the “NEW” ….

LA Pittenger SCLA Pittenger loungeOur NEW workshop home is the L.A. Pittenger Student Center on the campus of Ball State University. The familiar adage “location, location, location” certainly fits this sprawling facility with its extra parking slots, classrooms, Starbucks, food court, lounge areas, and—would you believe—a bowling alley! It also puts us in close proximity to what the locals call “The Village,” a casual cluster of restaurants and watering holes within steps of the Student Center. Writers can socialize as much or as little as they choose. The adjoining campus (typically quiet in July) is a great place to wander, soak up the sun, or check out an exhibit at the Owsley Art Museum or a program at the new planetarium (both free!).

 

Now for the “MORE” ….

The additional space is enabling us to accommodate MORE writers, faculty, editors, agents, and workshops. We have the largest faculty we’ve ever had: two faculty for middle grade (NEW), two faculty for women’s fiction (NEW), four faculty for mystery, three for young adult, up and coming star of writing the online essay; PLUS nonfiction, poetry, inspirational; PLUS Scrivener, social media tutoring, PLUS six agents and two editors. We’ve put together a schedule that balances keynote talks on both the craft and business of writing, hands-on learning, panel discussions, and opportunities for manuscript evaluations, query letter critiques, professional head shots, and tax/business consultations. We’re now able to offer 10 Part I intensive sessions and 45+ sessions for Part II on Friday and Saturday. We’ve made it extremely tough to decide which ones to attend!

Amid all these changes, one thing will remain constant: Hoosier hospitality. Our planning team works hard to create the kind of friendly environment that gives new and veteran writers room to grow. Whether you’re a “regular” who makes Midwest Writers Workshop an annual event, or a first-timer who has decided—like us—to take a giant leap this year to the next level, we look forward to welcoming you on July 21!

Register today!


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Award-winning Michael Shelden to teach Writing the Biography

For the FIRST TIME, Midwest Writers Workshop is offering a Part I intensive session on WRITING THE BIOGRAPHY.

So, who did we get to teach it? None other than the award-winning Dr. Michael Shelden! (Yes, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Biography.)

Shelden Michael 150x129In addition to teaching “Writing the Biography,” Michael will teach several sessions throughout the weekend of our July 23-25 workshop. Committee member Cathy Shouse caught up with Michael for a Q&A after he landed back home in Indiana from his six-city tour to Chicago, San Diego, New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, as a 2015 Drue Heinz Lecturer for the Royal Oak Foundation in affiliation with the National Trust of England.

While on tour, Michael lectured about his latest book,Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill,published by Simon &, Schuster, New York and London, 2013. (For more details about the tour, click here.)  This month he also gave a presentation, “Moments of Being: The New Art of Biography,” at the College of Liberal Arts at Purdue in West Lafayette.

Young Titan has garnered rave reviews from numerous sources:

“It’s all here–the boy wonder, adventurer, romantic, orator and eloquent man in the arena. I didn’t want it to end.” ~ Tom Brokaw on Michael Shelden’s book Young Titan.

“Entertaining and erudite . . .Shelden is full of sharp literary insights about Churchill, as one would expect from a biographer of his rank.” ~ The Wall Street Journal

If you want to improve your nonfiction skills, you should register for Michael’s intensive session! Here’s what he had to say about his upcoming presentations at Midwest Writers Workshop in July.

MWW:  Which book would you recommend attendees read to understand the techniques you’ll discuss in your intensive session? Or would all of them apply equally?

MS: Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill (Simon & Schuster, 2013) and Mark Twain: Man in White (Random House, 2010)

MWW:  One of my favorite biographies is Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak. Do you have a favorite biography, or more than one, and what do you like about it?

MS: Hampton Sides, Hellhound on His Trail, is a suspenseful portrait of Martin Luther King and James Earl Ray in the period when the hate-filled assassin was stalking the great civil rights champion.

MWW:  Is there a common pitfall(s) you see when you read biographies and how will your session help to avoid those?

MS: The most common mistake in biographies is to follow chronology too closely. The writer must know when to skip over boring details for the sake of creating a streamlined narrative.

MWW:  Please provide some details about how your intensive will be structured. Will attendees be writing during the session?

MS: I will discuss how to find material for a good biographical narrative, how to structure it, and how to make it come to life with forceful writing. We can try a few experiments by writing short samples, but mostly I will try to highlight the effective methods I’ve learned over the years.

MWW:  If someone has not begun a biography and maybe doesn’t have a subject chosen, how will this session help (or should they have a subject already?) and would you rate your class as aiming toward a specific level of writer?

MS: I’m often asked how I choose the subjects for my biographies, and I will explain this process in the session, but it’s highly personal and can’t be applied to most writers. You don’t write a biography in the abstract. The subject has to come first, and it has to be one that engages the writer fully at every level. The nature of the subject will largely determine how the story will be told.

MWW:  Will some of the techniques you plan to discuss apply to fiction writers who are working on characters, or should attendees be strictly working with nonfiction?

MS: Biographers may use dialogue, setting, and story in much the same way that novelists do, but the main difference is that we can’t make stuff up. Most of what I will have to say will apply to writers of nonfiction.

MWW:  Are there some ways to prepare for your class?

MS: Read a good biography and think at every turn about how it was made.

*****

Michael’s Part II sessions include the Thursday evening keynote, Finding Subjects for Nonfiction, and The Art of Research.

REGISTER TODAY!