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YA writers! Want to think like a teenager? Author Barbara Shoup can help!

Meet Mini-conference faculty Barbara Shoup!

Barbara Shoup is the author of eight novels, including  An American Tune, Wish You Were Here, and Looking for Jack Kerouac and the co-author of Novel Ideas: Contemporary Authors Share the Creative Process. Her short fiction, poetry, essays, and interviews have appeared in numerous small magazines, as well as in The Writer and the New York Times travel section. She is recipient of the PEN Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Working Writer and the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award, as well as numerous grants from the Indiana Arts Commission and the Arts Council of Indianapolis. Two of her YA novels were selected as American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults. She is the Executive Director of the Indiana Writers Center and a faculty member at Art Workshop International.

During the MWW Super mini-conference hands-on Friday morning session, Barb will teach “YA: Think Like a Teenager.” When asked for advice about writing for children, Maurice Sendak responded, “I don’t write for children; I write as a child.” This workshop will bring out your inner-adolescent to help you identify and explore universal issues and events of adolescence that still resonate for you and offer strategies for shaping them into novels that appeal to kids today. Participants may send the first two pages (double-spaced/12 font) of their YA novel, and Barb will comment generally on what works and what…doesn’t. Email midwestwriters@yahoo.com with “Barbara Shoup YA submission” in subject line, postmarked by July 2 (or at least by the first week of July).

Barb will also teach a session “Writing Your Life.” Maybe you want to tell the stories of your life for your family, maybe you want to write them as a way of understanding the aspects of your life that shaped you and brought you to this moment. Maybe you want to explore the stories of your life for fiction. “No matter why you want to write about your life,” Barb explains, “this workshop will teach you how to identify the memories worth writing about and offer both exercises and inspiration guaranteed to help you write them down.”

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

MWW: A lot of famous writers–Hemingway and Michener–always wrote in the morning because they said they were most creative before noon. How about you? When do you write? How long is a typical writing session? Do you take breaks? Are you a M-F writer or does your work spill over into the weekend, wee hours, Christmas, etc.

I write in the morning, before I do anything else. I usually get a couple of hours in before I have to start paying attention to the real world. I write most days, even weekends and holidays. Occasionally, I get lucky and can get away for a few days of nothing but writing, which is heaven. I’ve also done two-week residencies at Ragdale, which is super-heaven. A cozy room, the energy of fellow artists, and a fabulous meal every evening. It can spoil you! On these retreats, I might work as many as fourteen hours a day. The opportunity to work like that for a number of days in a row is especially helpful to a novelist because you live in the book, feel its rhythms, and have these moments when you hold the whole thing in your head and know exactly what you’re supposed to do. It’s amazing!

Part of becoming a writer, though, is figuring out what kind of writer you are and learning to work within the perimeters your life allows. Some people write best at night, some in the afternoon. Some people have obligations that dictate when they can write. Some write in spurts, some every day. Some set a timer and write until it goes off. Some set a word count for each day and write until they meet it. Whatever works is what you should do.

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? 

I tend to try to power through, even when my sensible side tells me that I’m past the point of productivity. I’m not good at relaxation. Balance is not my strong suit. A story is a series of problems to solve, and I get so obsessed that I can’t rest until I’ve solved whatever problem I happen to be facing. I cluster, I freewrite. I make timelines and calendars and maps to help me see whatever I’m missing. I write at the top of the page: Who are you and what are you doing in my story–and let my character answer. I break down a scene I see in my mind’s eye but can’t seem to write into who/what/when/where/why and write about each one of those elements until I write “one true sentence” that finally sets the scene moving.

MWW: Novelist Sidney Sheldon once said he never had a character sit down at a restaurant and order dinner unless he (Sheldon) had eaten at that restaurant and ordered the same meal; he wouldn’t have a character wander the streets of a city unless he (Sheldon again) had roamed those same streets. Talk about research. How do you create a sense of place? Do you go on site, take notes, etc., or do you leave it to your imagination?

I think you owe it to your readers to make sure that everything about the world of your novel is as authentic as it can be. So I read everything I can get my hands on about whatever I need to know to make the story real. I watch movies; look at catalogues, photos, newspapers, and recipes; listen to music from the time. 

These days, with the wonder of the internet, you can do the research for a novel without visiting the places you’re writing about. But it is a great gift to be able immerse yourself in your characters’ world–and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do that with my work. Standing where my characters stand, seeing what they see, I understand the boundaries of their existence in a visceral way. Being in the real world of a novel-in-progress enriches my imagination, and brings deeper, more sympathetic understanding of my characters’ struggles.

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?

My only rule for when and how to ask for feedback about your work is to be sure that you ask someone who is capable of understanding what you are trying to accomplish, capable of being objective, and knows enough about how stories work to be able to make useful observations. (This usually, but not always, excludes your mother and/or your best friend.) That’s all a beta reader is, really. I have several–some writers, some serious readers. I might ask them to read a novel-in-progress if I’m stuck and feel like I can’t see the novel clearly any more. More often, I wait until I finish a draft.

I also belong to a small writers’ group that meets every other week. Each of us brings whatever we’ve been working on since we last met–a story, an essay, a chapter of a novel. The regular meetings provide a kind of discipline: I don’t want to waste the opportunity for their input by not having something to bring. Ongoing critique of a work in progress often offers insights that shortcuts the process.

It’s important to develop your own personal community of writers, whether you communicate with them online or in person. Go to writers’ conferences, take classes, attend readings and other literary events, and keep an eye out for people who seem to be on your same wavelength. Invite them for coffee, talk about writing. In time, you’ll find the readers you need to help you see where your manuscript is working and where it needs improvement.

Come meet Barb!

To register for MWW Super-Mini, go 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.]

Book Review: THIEF OF LIES by Brenda Drake

[This post is the fifth 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.]

Family Secrets Bite

Title: Thief of Lies
Author: Brenda Drake
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Copyright 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63375-221-4
Format: Hardcover
Genre: YA Fantasy Fiction
Book I of a Library Jumpers series

 

Family secrets really come back and bite Gia Kearns hard in Thief of Lies by Brenda Drake. Gia and her two best friends, Afton and Nick, go to a library in Boston just like it is any other day of summer vacation, but everything they believe they know changes when Gia accidentally says an old Italian phrase over a book causing them to jump into the book and come out in a library in Paris, France.  The world really goes further upside down for the three friends when they see a hound/rhinoceros beast start to chase after them, but ends up being stopped by a group of teenagers dressed up in gladiators type gear, with swords on and everything, right before the hound beast tries to eat them. The three friends have no idea what the heck is going on.

They discover a world with dangerous creatures that want to kill all three friends for just being plain old human. Once all three of them are safely back home, they find out this isn’t the end of their exposure to this world. Gia must quickly figure out her place in this world that would label her as a danger and should be killed on site.

Arik went through the door. My heart sputtered as I scrambled up the last steps, ignoring the pain. I froze on the landing, stuck between two worlds, desperately clinging to one while called to embrace the other. If I went through the door, my mother’s stories would come true, and I could never go back.

She must become the Sentinel she was meant to be if she doesn’t want her family and friends to die at the hands of a crazy Master Wizard Conemar, who will do anything to rule both the magical and human world. Also on top of trying to save two worlds, Gia must decide whether or not to pursue a forbidden romance with another Sentinel or marry her betrothed. Both of whom she has feelings for and are ridiculously hot.

The novel’s pacing flows together really well. We get a bunch of action types scenes—different fights with different types of creatures—but in between the action scenes we get scenes where Gia starts to discover the history and the finer rules of how this world works. We get to discover these legends as Gia discovers them, which keeps readers on their toes because they only get part of a legend at a time; when it would actually be better to get the entire thing at the same time, because there is always that little detail that gets left out that affects everything.  Also the characters are so likeable. It is hard to choose which one to root for. And this doesn’t include all the relationships that are happening between everybody—secret ones or not. After all, you get a bunch of hormonal teenagers together in a life or death situation and something is bound to happen.

Fighting for what you believe in. This phrase could quickly wrap up what this story is about and help readers to connect with it, because is not this idea/concept something parents tell their children as they grow up. “Never give up your dreams,” “if you want something bad enough, then fight for it,” and “dare to dream for the impossible” are all things that I have heard from various coaches, teachers, professors, and friends in my life and this novel really brings this concept to the forefront of Gia’s life. She must take up a sword and fight for her right to live the life that she wants. She must decide when it is right to follow blindly and when it is better to forge her own path, which are life lessons every single person needs to someday learn for themselves. Thief of Lies allows readers to see that the fight might be hard and violent, but there is hope for a brighter outcome at the end of the fight.

By Abby Hoops

Book Review: THE BFF BUCKET LIST by Dee Romito

[This post is the fourth 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.]

Does Best Friends really mean FOREVER?

This novel takes you on an adventure following Ella and Skyler completing the tasks on their BFF Bucket List–facing a fear, fancy dinner party, random act of kindness, 12 in all. These tasks were supposed to bring the girls back together and strengthen their relationship, but it might just have the opposite effect on them. With the completion of each task, the girls are making decisions and going off without the other, something that until now hasn’t happened before.

Ella hates change while Skyler embraces it. Ella is terrified of going to high school and meeting new people, while Skyler is beyond excited about it. Ella is obsessed with lists and following them to the letter, while Skyler just goes with the flow of it all to make Ella happy. Both of the girls are learning who they are without the other and trying to find themselves for the first time.

As Skyler branches out and makes new friends in anticipation of high school, all Ella can see is that Skyler is slipping away, little by little. Each end up with a new group of friends, some that are friendlier than others, and every girl who has ever had a BFF knows that once other people are involved, things change. But is change always bad? Ella and Skyler start keeping life changing secrets from each other and start to lean on new friends. Will this be the end of it all? Canoe flips, cows, and a few hospital visits in between the tasks on the list are teaching the girls something new about themselves and each other. They are learning to stretch out of their comfort zones but can they survive it?

If you had a BFF in middle school, this book will take you right back to that moment, that person. The perfect growing up and maturing story. Follow Ella and Skyler as they discover themselves and just how far you can stretch the bonds of friendship before they break.

Visit Dee Romito’s website for more information about this book and others.

By Amber Haynes

Welcome to the Simon-verse! Review of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

[This post is the third 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.]

Title: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Author: Becky Albertalli
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Copyright: 2015
ISBN: 9780062348678
Format: trade paperback
Genre: Young Adult
Page Count: 320
Find it on Goodreads
Get it on Amazon

“People really are like houses with vast rooms and tiny windows. And maybe it’s a good thing, the way we never stop surprising each other.” (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda)

Becky Albertalli’s debut novel (soon to be a Major Motion Picture) Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a riveting and fresh story of love, friendship, and identity. The book centers on the protagonist, Simon, who is being blackmailed by a classmate, Martin. The secret he’s trying to protect? He’s gay (and not out). If he can help his blackmailer get what he wants, he might be able to take back control of his secret.

Simon also has a crush — on the guy he’s been messaging from his school, the mysterious “Blue.” The two email each other, become more than friends, and share stories (as well as a love of Oreos). Simon finds himself liking Blue more and more — and he wants to know who he really is. Blue feels the same way, but something is holding him back from revealing his true identity.

The story moves quickly and beautifully. Simon’s life becomes more dramatic as the blackmail situation gets worse and worse. Will Blue reveal himself? Can Simon get Martin to stop blackmailing him? Does Simon want to come out? The answers are painted perfectly in Simon’s first person narration. Switching every other chapter between story narrative and Blue and Simon’s emails, the story keeps the reader turning the next page until the book is finished.

It’s easy to fall in love with Simon and his intelligent sarcasm and humor. Albertalli’s writing style through Simon’s point of view is funny, engaging, and honest. Simon is a kid who knows who he is but feels locked within himself, and Albertalli writes this well. His struggle to come to terms with his identity is raw and real, and will demonstrate to the reader just how hard it can be to come to terms with sexual identities. Late in the novel, Simon confesses, “And this gay thing. It feels so big. It’s almost insurmountable. I don’t know how to tell them something like this and still come out feeling like Simon.” He wants to tell his closest friends — he feels like he needs to, it is a part of himself, but he still wants to feel the same around them.

Though it’s not exactly considered dialogue, this reviewer’s favorite parts of the book were the emails sent between Simon and his mysterious crush “Blue.” The messages and the banter between the two of them makes readers fall in love with Simon even more and makes them root for him throughout the story. The couple emails about their identity struggles, their families, and so much more. It just shows how honest communication can happen through mostly any method nowadays, and that relationship are built on just that — communication. Albertalli paints a beautiful relationship through the emails two people sent to one another, and the craft is well-done.

True and honest LGBT+ representation is hard, almost impossible to find in today’s literature. Albertalli took this lack of representation into her own hands and did what she could to give what needed to be given. Simon’s story is important not just because of the riveting story and plotline, but because it normalizes literature that represents all people.

Overall, the book gives the reader a refreshing, progressive story that one reviewer described as “The love child of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.” This is pretty accurate, and some may even add that Simon’s voice is similar to Holden Caulfield from Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. It’s part love story, part comedy, and readers are sure to fall in love with Simon and his story. 

Go check out the book here: (x

Check out author Becky Albertalli here: @beckyalbertalli 

By Kristen Parks

Book Review: THE HATE U GIVE, and the Knowledge We Get

[This post is the first 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.]

Over halfway through Angie Thomas‘s debut novel, these words – spoken by the main character’s mother – rip through readers as we witness her growth and the love of her family:
“‘Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared, Starr,’ she says.  ‘It means that you go on even though you’re scared.  And you’re doing that.'”

The Hate U Give is a haunting story that centers around sixteen-year-old black high school student Starr Carter.  Already struggling to balance a double life between a rich, primarily-white private school and a poor, gang-afflicted neighborhood, Starr’s life is only tougher after she witnesses the murder of her childhood friend, Khalil, at the hands of a white police officer.  Facing the trauma of Khalil’s death, the miles of red tape of the judicial system, the idiocy of privileged high school students, and the harsh realities of gang violence, Starr is an indisputably remarkable character.  And what’s more, she’s written honestly by a bold new author, who – excuse the cliché here – says exactly what needs to be said year after year in America.

What really pulls readers into The Hate U Give is Thomas’s memorable characters.  The entire novel is told through Starr’s perspective, so it’s easiest to witness her growth from a timid, quiet teen to a well-informed and well-spoken activist.  We get honest glimpses into her past, as well, witnessing both the pain and love of her past side-by-side.  Maybe some will say it’s “too real” for young audiences, but I think what Thomas understands is that, in YA, “too real” is exactly what we need.  It’s how we’re able to percieve Starr’s growth, which comes together in an older, wiser, and stronger character that we find ourselves extremely proud of.

Thomas’s writing is, at its heart, powerful.  It gives us a close-up perspective of a world many teens and children live in now: its violence, cruelty, love, and eventually, its unity.  At the end of the novel, we fully understand alongside Starr that these things must exist together, and we must find a place within them.  It’s a novel I’m thankful to have experienced.

And remember, this is Thomas’s very first novel.  Keeping a title at the top of the New York Times bestsellers list for weeks is no small achievement, and with a premier novel?  I think I speak for all devoted YA readers when I say that we can’t wait for the next title she puts out.  As it continues to make huge ripples in the literary scene, The Hate U Give proves to be a novel every teen, parent, poor college student – every person needs to read immediately.  It’s an excellent catalyst for discussion, for mingling experiences and identities together, and for insight into the very real problems of police brutality, gang violence, and poverty.

Please read it.  You won’t regret it.

By M.S. Swain

NYT Bestselling coming to MWW17 | Angie Thomas

If you’ve ever wanted to meet a debut novelist who started on the bestseller lists right out of the gate, come to Midwest Writers Workshop in July!

Since The Hate U Give released in February, Angie Thomas has been super busy! It turns out an extensive book tour and giving tons of interviews will do that to a person’s schedule.

But recently, we caught up with her in London and she gave us a quick email interview.

Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Myers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and was published on February 28, 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg attached to star. Follow Angie on social media:  Twitter: @acthomasbooks / Website:  AngieThomas.com

MWW: Your debut novel, The Hate U Give, was sold at auction with 13 publishers competing for the highest bid, and interest worldwide. Did that prepare you for the success you’ve had since its release? How are you feeling and what are you thinking after 6 weeks at #1 on the New York Times Bestselling list?

AT: I was totally not prepared for this. It’s surreal and a dream come true.

MWW: You’ve said that you thought about this story for a few years and I know you were in a creative writing program at college. What helped you the most in writing a compelling story?

AT: The thing that helped me the absolute most was to decide to write it for myself and no one else.

MWW: When you come to Midwest Writers Workshop this summer, you’ll talk about your debut and also about diversity in books. Do you have a few tips for writing a diverse book that resonates?

AT: (1) Remember that not every story is your story to tell, and that’s okay. (2)  Diversity is not a trend. Approaching it this way dehumanizes marginalized people. (3)  If you’re writing an identity outside of your own, sensitivity readers are a must.

MWW: Your agent, Brooks Sherman, is returning to MWW. What’s an insider secret on how to impress him? Or what is a no-no?

AT: He doesn’t like issue books, but great books with issues. Also, he’s the coolest Slytherin you will ever meet.

MWW: How do you know Becky Albertalli, who is also coming to MWW17?

AT: Becky and I consider ourselves soul mates – we share the same agent, same editor, same publishing house, same film producers, and sometimes the same thoughts despite our different opinions on Oreos.

How about some quick thoughts:

MAC or PC?

PC though a MAC may be in my future

Pantser or plotter?

A bit of both fortunately and unfortunately.

Early bird or night owl?

Night owl for sure

Scrivener or Word software?

Just got Scrivener and love it!

**** 

Speaking of Scrivener, MWW17 has you covered this summer. Dee Romito is returning to present “Getting to Know Scrivener” Part I Intensive Session – a full day’s instruction on the amazing writing software everyone’s talking about.

The Scrivener software is inexpensive (under $50), although there is a steep learning curve. Many people agree with Angie that the software is well worth the effort to learn. Let MWW help you speed up the process with our one day intensive session.

4 Ways to Love Scrivener, by Dee

Get organized.

Keep all your chapters, scenes, research, and links right at your fingertips. It’s all in one place!

Move around quickly.

With a simple click, go from Chapter 1 to Chapter 20 to plotting notes to research. No more scrolling or opening multiple files.

Multiple ways to work.

Write in the editor, or switch over to corkboard or outline view quickly and easily.

Go for your goals.

Set a word count goal for your manuscript and current session. You’ll see it keep track and change color as you get closer to your goal. 🙂
Come and meet Angie, Dee, and the rest of our fantastic faculty this summer!

Register now !

Book Review: Lose Yourself in “Wanderlost” and European Lust

[This post is the fifth in a six-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2016 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.]

 

Join author Jen Malone on her first international journey filled with enticing experiences and an unexpected longing for a lustful romance in her newest novel,Wanderlost.

Wanderlost bookPlace yourself in the beginning of the novel with quirky and angsty Aubree at a graduation celebration with her class accompanied by a slew of forbidden alcoholic refreshments. A cop soon approaches the house with the intention of addressing a noise complaint, Elizabeth, Aubree’s older sister, answers to the door to cover her sister and her friend, but then the cop leaves with Elizabeth in handcuffs. For the sake of saving her sister’s political career, Aubree is sent on a European tour with Elizabeth’s application, Elizabeth’s passport, and a bus of senior citizens.

While, at times, readers may wonder why Aubree seems unwilling to venture out of her comfort zone, her meal choices and honest unawareness of the world outside her realm of Midwestern living reminds the reader to take a trip back to life as a teenager. Even though teenagers may think they will remain protected by their parents, their realities are extremely different from the realities of adulthood.

While avoiding revealing numerous accounts of fraud, Aubree pretends to be Elizabeth during the trip, and the plan seems to unfold flawlessly until she meets the trip owner’s handsome son, Sam. While this plot seems a tad bizarre, it aids in creating a humorous experience for Aubree. After being overcome with guilt, she begins to slowly tell Sam the truth while also attempting to conceal her identity. Playing dress-up for Elizabeth becomes difficult though when she realizes she enjoys being independent and adventurous, which were definitely not qualities she possessed before this well-planned but also unintended trip. Her thoughts on her summer in Europe changed from “I like things predictable and familiar and safe and easy” to “This place is magical. All of it.”

Aubree’s growth brings a fresh insight to the reader about how harrowing circumstances might be the best way to realize your own strength and independence. The pacing of Aubree’s thought process encapsulates the thought process of a teenager nearing adulthood who wants to impress her family, but who also does not want to grow up quite yet. These conflicting thoughts keep the reader entertained as we gain insight on why she makes the decisions she does throughout the novel. It is through these scenarios in which we see Aubree’s remarkable growth.

Before she left for her trip, Aubree had never even had a job or been out of her hometown. Now, she is in Europe, handling deranged sets of chaos, and even finding a seemingly perfect guy. Will she be able to balance handling her independence, perfecting her duties worthy enough for a good review from her boss for Elizabeth, and falling for Sam? Readers will become entranced when reading Aubree’s international tale.

By  Lauren Cross

Dumplin’ Redefines the Word “Beautiful”

[This post is the third in a six-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2016 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.]

 

Dumplin’ Redefines the Word “Beautiful”

Dumplin bookIn this real-world story about high school drama, love, weight issues, and loving yourself, Willowdean seeks to prove that she can be just as beautiful as the pageant girls her mother coordinates.

Following Willowdean through her awkward high school years brings forward a memory of that girl we all remember. She is the girl that longs to fit in with the crowd, but finds herself being picked out. In the beginning of Dumplin’, Julie Murphy writes Willowdean to be this open-to-imagination character where the readers only know she’s fat. This allows anyone, plus sized or not, to go through the trials that the main character goes through.

In the story, Willowdean is very open about her weight and it doesn’t seem to bother her until more and more people comment on it. She says, “But that’s me. I’m fat. It’s not a cuss word. It’s not an insult. At least when I say it. So I always figure why not get it out of the way?”

Her hatred of the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant slowly begins to fade as she realizes that she has just as much of a right to be included and feel beautiful as the other girls. Through this entry of the pageant, she believes more in herself, finds confidence, and allows herself to be who she wants to be. Murphy does well in creating this character that most can relate to. The readers can place themselves into Willowdean’s shoes and relate to at least one of the many situations pushed upon the main character.

Though the situations may be many, they aren’t too much for Willowdean. She powers through each of them and shows the reader that being yourself is enough.

 By Amanda Byk

Coming to MWW16, YA author Natalie C. Parker

Natalie C. Parker is the author of the Southern Gothic duology Beware the Wild and Behold the Bones (HarperTeen), as well as the editor of the forthcoming young adult anthology, Triangles: The Points of Love (HarperTeen). She is the founder of Madcap Retreats, an organization offering a yearly calendar of writing retreats and workshops. In her not-so-spare time, she works as a grant coordinator for the University of Kansas, where she runs writing workshops for tribal college students in STEM disciplines. 

Natalie will team teach the Part I “Building the YA Novel” Intensive Session with Julie Murphy.

MWW committee member Shelly Gage recently interviewed Natalie about her sessions and her writing.

SG: What should we expect from your sessions at MWW and how will they be structured?

NCP: Each of my sessions with be co-taught with the illustrious Julie Murphy. As we considered what we were best equipped to offer, we knew our focus would be on Young Adult genres and we settled on the intimate places where prose becomes power — single pages. We are both very interested in writing that takes the reader forward by leaps and bounds in the course of a single paragraph, page, or chapter.

Our sessions will be a blend of close analysis and practical application. We’ll study passages that represent voice and world building and character, and then we’ll challenge each other with prompts and exercises.

There will also be an abundance of Magic Mike references and possibly candy because what’s a writing workshop without a double dose of sugar?

SG: What achievement are you most proud of and why?

NCP: Madcap Retreats. Last year, I started a small business focused on creating writing retreats for aspiring and established writers. Almost a full year later, we’ve hosted five incredible events and have twice as many on the horizon.

The venture grew out of the first retreat I ever attended as an unagented, star-in-my-eyes writer. Having access to authors who were established in their careers and willing to talk about it was invaluable to me. I came away from that experience determined to recreate it for as many writers as possible. And that’s exactly what I’m doing with Madcap.

SG: How have conferences influenced your life and career (assuming that they have)? What writing tip or two has had the most positive impact on your career?

NCP: I didn’t attend my first writing conference until after I found my agent, but I was immediately taken by the possibilities for creative, constructive community. If I could give my younger self some advice, it would be to find a local writers’ conference and be brave!

The writing tip that continues to comfort and challenge me is this: break the rules. I have always bristled at the notion that there are do’s and don’ts when it comes to creating fiction. Do use dialogue tags, don’t use adverbs, do start close to the action, don’t open with a dream sequence. Hearing those things repeated again and again has always inspired me to find the exceptions. At some point, I realized that’s what I wanted out of my own writing — to create something that operates under its own set of rules.

SG: I really enjoyed the way you handled the supernatural elements in your books. My husband and I are real-life ghost hunters and the Clary stories reminded me of urban legends we’ve run into in our research, but they were also very grounded in Sticks. How much research did you do into the supernatural, or did you have personal experiences to draw upon?
NCP: As a kid, I was desperately in love with ghost stories and collected as many as I could get my hands on. But I also lived in a neighborhood with one house that was said to be haunted. It was a large house that pre-dated our Virginia subdivision with a wilting barn and a huge lawn that backed up to the Elizabeth River. And since I am a sagittarindor, I took (take?) every excuse to drag my friends on adventures. Especially adventures that might end up with ghosts. Double especially adventures that might result in a story about ghosts.
I can’t say that I ever successfully tracked down a real ghost, but I certainly crafted dozens of scenarios in my head. Many of my ghost stories come from the moments when I crouched in a dark surrounded by my friends and the destroyed walls of a barn, waiting for the noise that would send us running in terrified delight.
To be very honest, I’ve always felt a little like Candy in Behold the Bones–willing but maddeningly unable to see the ghosts that might be around me.

 

SG: Sterling’s voice was one of my favorite elements of Beware the Wild, and I loved the dynamic between Sterling and her friends, especially her relationship with Candace. I was delighted to find that you’d put out a sequel, and excited to see that the new story was from Candace’s perspective. She was such a forceful personality from the start. Did you know from the start that you would write a second book from her POV or did the character step up and demand her own book?  That seems like something Candy would do. 🙂
NCP: I wrote Beware the Wild as a stand alone and didn’t know that I was going to be able to write another story in Sticks until the time came to pitch my second book. But as soon as that possibility opened up, I knew it would be Candy’s voice at the helm. As a girl who was raised in Virginia by Mississippi parents, I love digging into tales about southern girls. Candy was equally a pill and a treat to write (and that’s just the way she likes it).
SG: Speaking of characters who may demand a book of their own, is there any possibility of a third story from Abigail’s POV?  Is there more to explore related to the Shine and the Swamp?
NCP: If there is ever an opportunity for me to return to Sticks, Abigail’s story is ready and waiting!
SG: If not a return to the Swamp, what is next for you?
NCP: I’m currently in the midst of editing my very first anthology filled to the brim with all sorts of love triangles! It’s been an incredible project to work on with 15 other Young Adult authors contributing in every genre imaginable. We’re working on the title now. It’s set to come out in fall 2017, and it’s going to break/ mend/ explode your heart.
Thank you so much for this incredible interview! I’m so excited to be joining MWW this year!

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Natalie’s (and Julie’s) Part II sessions include:

Agent/Author Relationships Panel Julie Murphy/Natalie Parker & Molly Jaffa, Amy Reichert & Rachel Ekstrom, Uwe Stender/Brent Taylor & Summer Heacock

Voice/Dialogue – Julie Murphy & Natalie C. Parker. Voice is the lifeblood of every story. You’ve either got it or you don’t. Some would even say it can’t even be taught. Join Natalie C. Parker and Julie Murphy as they unlock key secrets and tricks to finding and nailing your narrator’s voice.

Word by Word: What Your First Line Says About Your Book – Julie Murphy and Natalie C. Parker. We know a good first line when we hear one, but we don’t always stop to consider what makes it good. In this session, we will evaluate a series of first lines for the promises they make about the novel to follow.