Interview with author D.E. Johnson

DE JohnsonD.E. (Dan) Johnson, a graduate of Central Michigan University, is a history buff who has been writing fiction since childhood but had to hit his midlife crisis to get serious about it. His first novel, a historical mystery entitled The Detroit Electric Scheme, was published in 2010 by St. Martin’s Minotaur Books. The Detroit Electric Scheme was named one of Booklist’s Top Ten First Crime Novels of the Year and also won a 2011 Michigan Notable Book Award. Motor City Shakedown, the sequel to The Detroit Electric Scheme, was named one of the Top 5 Crime Novels of 2011 by The House of Crime and Mystery, called “extraordinarily vivid” by The New York Times, and won a 2012 Michigan Notable Book Award. Dan’s third book, Detroit Breakdown, was published in September, 2012 by St. Martin’s Minotaur Books. It was named to the best crime novels list for 2012 by multiple publications. Book four,The Detroit Shuffle, continuing the adventures of Will and Elizabeth into the world of political corruption, will be published in fall 2013 by St. Martin’s Minotaur Books.

MWW committee member Linda Taylor interviewed Dan for this week’s newsletter.

Linda: You say in your bio that a “midlife crisis” got you started writing. Many of our attendees are in their midlife. What encouragement can you give older writers about following their dreams even at this time of life?

Dan: Like most MWW attendees, I was one of those kids who thought about trying to be a professional writer, but by the time I was ready to graduate from high school I had become convinced by my elders that it wasn’t practical. (BTW, even in my fifties I’m not saying that it is, but we don’t do this because of practicality.) I spent 25 years doing work I didn’t enjoy, and even though the rest of my life was grand, I was miserable.

My wife and I had always told our girls to try to live their dreams. I was the example of the one who never did. Finally, at 47 years old, I stopped working for two years and dove headfirst into writing. I knew I had a limited window, so I worked like crazy, hoping I could get a good book contract before I had to find another job. As it worked out, I was offered my first book contract by St. Martin’s Press about a year after I started looking for a job. (And it was a good thing I had found one, because that six-figure advance didn’t materialize like I had planned!)

It’s never too late. That’s one of the beauties of writing. We can do this until our minds are so feeble we can’t pick up a pencil. Perhaps by then software will be able to read our minds so that our senseless ravings can be saved for posterity.

Linda: You also say that when you began writing you took classes, read everything you could find, and wrote for hours every day before you hit upon the automotive history crime genre that you write. When did the light bulb go on for you about what you should write about?

Dan: The light bulb turned on one book too late. For some reason, I had a religious satire in my head that had to get out. (And this is from a person who had to get a book contract in two years!) Okay, I know it was a poor choice, but we probably all have a book to get off our chests before we can write something marketable. It turns out I thought I was funnier than I am.

I tried to sell that book and had some interest from agents, but no one was interested enough to give it a try. After a couple of months of depression, I went back to the drawing board. I love history and historical fiction, and I love good crime fiction. I set as my goal writing historical crime in an “E.L. Doctorow and T.C Boyle meet Elmore Leonard and Dennis Lehane” kind of way. (And then Lehane went and started writing historical crime too. Copying me? Someone should investigate.)

Linda: At MWW, you’ll be teaching about writing unforgettable characters and point of view. Who’s your favorite character in your books and why?

Dan: I have to say Elizabeth Hume, my protagonist Will Anderson’s ex-fiancee. Elizabeth has a pretty severe character arc through the books, starting as a heroin addict in The Detroit Electric Scheme and becoming a women’s suffrage leader by Detroit Shuffle (book 4, publishing Sept. 3). She and Will both grew up in privileged households and have had to learn a lot of hard lessons. She’s tough as nails and has even had to kill a few men along the way. It’s been fun to write a really strong female character, or maybe I should say a female character who has grown very strong.

I learned a lot about her writing Detroit Breakdown, because I had to write half the book from her perspective. It gave me a chance to really delve into her mind, which gave me a lot of insight into her character. It’s amazing how much these people will tell us if we listen carefully.

**********

My first MWW was in 2006, two months after I left my job to pursue writing. It was, hands-down, the most useful conference I’ve ever gone to. I learned a great deal about writing and about the industry. I went on to become a MWW Fellow in 2008, where Terry Faherty helped me hone the beginning of my first book, which sold four months later. MWW is the best writers’ conference there is!

Dan’s Part II sessions include:

  • Characters You Can’t Forget – Who have you met in a novel who still seems like a friend-or an enemy? The author who created those characters had a plan and executed it well. Dan will show you how to create believable and compelling characters that draw readers into your stories. This workshop will put you on track to create characters your readers won’t be able to forget.
  • Publishing in a Brave New World Panel: Sarah LaPolla, Roxane Gay, Barb Shoup, Jane Friedman, D.E. Johnson
  • POV – Who’s Telling This Story? – Point of view is one of the most important decisions a writer has to make and can be one of the trickiest to handle. This fast-paced workshop Dan will not only provide the tips and tricks, he will have you writing from a unique point of view before the hour is out.

Interview with author Hank Nuwer

headshotnuwerLHank Nuwer is best known for his four young adult and adult books on the topic of hazing in society-including High School Hazing. He teaches journalism at Franklin College, Indiana but speaks on hazing at schools such as Kenyon College, Maine, Toronto, Cornell, Chico State, Dartmouth, Oregon, Michigan and Stetson. He also teaches on the art of nonfiction storytelling at writer conferences. Nuwer also has written To the Young Writer, a book for young adults on the business of writing as seen through the eyes of well-known authors; it was a New York Public Library 2002 award winner for Best Books for Young Adult readers. Other books for youngsters include a biography of Jesse Owens and books on football, baseball, sports scandals, steroids, and recruiting in sports.  His journalism has appeared in Harper’s, Outside, Fraternal Law, The Nation, Toronto Globe & Mail, Montreal Standard and Boston Magazine.

MWW Social media intern, Madison R Jones interviewed Hank for this week’s E-pistle.

JONES: At MWW you will teach three different nonfiction workshops: two on the art of storytelling in nonfiction and another about writing memoir. What’s the most important rule for a nonfiction writer to follow when trying to balance facts and truth with telling a good story?

NUWER: Oh, man. that is an easy question. Selection of detail. Cultivating the value of ruthlessness with regard to story. Pare to the essentials. Develop the parts too sparsely described. If you were reading this aloud, you’d want the audience leaning in to catch your every word. Nothing left out, nothing superfluous. It isn’t easy, but it can be done, and it must be.

JONES: You have taught at Midwest Writers before. How does it feel to be coming back, and what do you enjoy most about this conference?

NUWER: The energy. From the first step in the door and getting a hug from like five old friends to the class itself and getting to discover new talent, the entire MWW conference is a rush. One of my students (Gary Eller) went on to write a book and get an MFA from the famous writers school at the University of Iowa. Getting together with writers who love and appreciate good writing? It’s better than a love-in or jam session. It’s creativity at work. I won’t sleep for a week after the conference–just write. Seriously. I’m in the middle of a book right now and it’s 2:45 a.m. and what’s better in life than writing at 2:45 a.m.?

JONES: How old were you when you first were published?

NUWER: Age sixteen with two essays-for-pay in the Buffalo News. One was an op-ed, the other a review of a bad baseball game broadcast by Dizzy Dean.

JONES: When did you take your first creative writing class, and where was it?

NUWER: Hamline University in July 2012. I had never had a creative writing class before that. My professor was the poet and essayist Lia Purpura–who was in the New Yorker two issues back with a piece.

JONES: You had never had a writing class before that?

NUWER: Never.

JONES: What do you emphasize in your sessions?

NUWER: Great storytelling. Bringing out the telling details. Knowing what to leave in and what to pare out.

JONES: You said in your 2012 CBS interview with Tracy Smith that you’ve been writing about hazing since 1975. That’s nearly 40 years. What is it about this issue that draws you to write about it?

NUWER: I came to young adulthood in the 1960s when the driving urge for many of us was to make a difference. As a graduate student at the University of Nevada-Reno, I knew many members of a fraternal club of mainly athletes called the Sundowner Club through my own associations as a onetime president of the Graduate Student Association and intramural sports. The Sundowners conducted their bare-chested drinking initiations in public, and I saw two of them (alcohol-fueled hazings), actually imploring one friendly member to walk a student for hours that I had found inert under a pool table and frothing at the mouth. Just before I quit the program to pursue a freelance writing career I had started years earlier, the Sundowners had a third initiation far from campus and killed John Davies and caused a second pledge to have brain damage.

I wrangled an assignment from Human Behavior magazine to write about hazing behaviors and interviewed giants in the field of behavior about such theories as groupthink and our human urge for camaraderie and acceptance. I came to the belief that my interviews with such experts might in time put together all the best science and knowledge to eradicate hazing. With all due humility, I’d like to think my four books and countless articles on hazing have made a difference for the better to try to put an end to the degradation and violence that occurs worldwide in hazing acts.

JONES: What would be your advice for the new/young nonfiction writer when it comes to finding that topic or issue to write about and finding their niche?

NUWER: From my own experience, I say this. 1) Sometimes a topic will find you. An online friend named Sheryl Hill started the ClearCause Foundation to highlight the dangers of too-little-planned school travel tips after her son Tyler perished in a horrific fall. I never would have written about hazing if the Nevada-Reno death hadn’t occurred. I had experienced hazing in Scouts and a fraternity, but not the kind that causes a death–more of  a timewaster and irritation than anything serious. The UNR death was serious. 2) Sometimes you find a topic. Some topics we choose on our own and pursue and through research and exploration and hard work we finally publish. Examples would be my biographies of Olympic legend Jesse Owens and (in-progress) Kurt Vonnegut. I went after those contracts hard before editors assigned them to me. Many hazing contracts are offered me. But outside of hazing, I get assignments through queries and proposals to editors.

JONES: What is the best gift you can give a student?

NUWER: Guarded enthusiasm and paying attention to find that writer’s singular voice.

JONES: Why is it that some people with real writing talent don’t go as far as they can?

NUWER: They have to develop a thick skin. One or a hundred rejections later and they give up. Or they don’t keep a daily writing routine. When you’re not writing it should be because you’re on a vacation to put something back into your mental fuel tank. And even then, keep a notebook handy and jot down ideas for stories or articles as they come to you. Real writers know the importance of developing a writing routine and regimen. And they stick to those.  Make a list of all the things you can cut out that can have an hour or two of daily writing put in its place. Then write instead of doing those other things. Put something, anything, down on a blank page. Don’t wait for inspiration. Just do it, as the commercial says. And sooner than you think, you’ll have done it.

JONES: Is there one quotation every aspiring writer attending MWW should commit to memory?

NUWER: Theodore Roosevelt said this: “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” Now combine the advice and techniques you acquire at MWW with discipline and courage . . . and you’re ALL the way there–you’re a writer.

Hank’s Part II sessions, Friday and Saturday include:

  • Putting Storytelling into Your Nonfiction (session in two parts)
  • Writing Memoir

Interview with author Roxane Gay

Gay RoxaneHow many times have you thought to yourself, I’d love to blog or have my own website, but I don’t have the tech skills. If I could only sit down with someone for a few hours and have them show me how to get started…

We have the solutionRoxane Gay‘s Tech Intensive on “Building an Author Website” during Part I of MWW13. Only a few seats left. Sign up now! Just $135 and five hours of your time (which includes lunch) is an excellent investment in advancing your career.

Roxane Gay‘s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, The New York Times Book Review, The Rumpus, Salon, The Wall Street Journal, and many others. Her novel, An Untamed State, will be published by Grove Atlantic and her essay collection, Bad Feminist, will be published by Harper Perennial, both in 2014. She teaches creative writing at Eastern Illinois University, is the author of the novel Ayiti, and maintains an active online presence via Twitter and her blog. She also blogs for the Wall Street Journal, Salon, and the Rumpus. She’s the co-editor of the print and online magazine Pank.

MWW Intern Sarah Hollowell interviewed Roxane for this week’s E-pistle.

Sarah: Your Thursday intensive for MWW is a hands-on “tech intensive” about building an author website. Your site is gorgeous–simple, intuitive, fun. What do you think is the most important thing for writers to keep in mind when they start work on their website?

Roxane: Writers need to remember that their website is not for them, really, it’s for their audience, past, present, and future, so they need to keep usability at the forefront of their design and content decisions.

Sarah: One of the most difficult parts of having a professional online presence is knowing what and how much to share. Do you have any rules that you make for yourself on that front?

Roxane: Absolutely. With everything I put out onto the Internet, I ask myself, “Will I lose my job if this is out in the world? Will my parents disown me?” Armed with those answers, I proceed accordingly.

Sarah: As well as your intensive on author websites, you’re teaching two sessions. One is called “The Art of Compression” and the other, “What Editors Look For: Writing from an Editor’s Perspective.” Can you give us a teaser of what those are going to be like?

Roxane: In “The Art of Compression,” I’m going to be talking about the power of very short fiction, and how to tell satisfying stories with as few words as possible. In “What Editors Look For,” I’m going to focus on how editors consider creative work and what writers can do to get their writing the attention it deserves.

Roxane’s Part I & Part II sessions include:

  • Part I tech intensive (Thursday): Building an Author Website. Writers need websites, a hub for all their online activity. Building one has never been easier. In this full-day Tech Intensive, Roxane will walk you through the steps you need to create a website or blog. There will also be social media interns on hand to help you figure out the technology and think through your website’s architecture, design, and purpose. Bring your laptop or use one of the Mac or PC desktop computers that will be on hand in the room. You don’t have to know code or technical jargon or have any previous experience. While several site-building tools will be discussed, the session will offer a step-by-step tutorial on setting up a site using WordPress, a best-in-class system for websites that’s free to use. Be sure to bring images and other content (such as your bio) that you’d like to use for your site. This session is still open! If you want to learn about building that all-important website, register today!
  • Craft session, “The Art of Compression” (Friday)
  • Panel: “Publishing in a Brave New World” (Saturday)
  • Buttonhole topic: What Editors Look For: Writing from an Editor’s Perspective (Saturday)

Interview with author Colleen Coble

Colleen Pub 2012 BigBestselling author Colleen Coble‘s novels have won or been a finalist in awards ranging from the Best Books of Indiana, the ACFW Carol Award, the Romance Writers of America RITA, the Holt Medallion, the Daphne du Maurier, National Readers’ Choice, and the Booksellers Best. She has over 2 million books in print and writes romantic mysteries because she loves to see justice prevail. Colleen is CEO of American Christian Fiction Writers.

Just one day with MWW can turbo-charge your career! Consider taking an Intensive Session!

Everyone’s on a tight schedule and many are watching pennies these days. Jumpstart your writing and your publishing knowledge with a MWW Intensive Session. An intensive is one day, a total of six hours of learning from an expert in the field. It’s like a college master class with a limited number of students.

Just $135 and five hours of your time (which includes lunch) is an excellent investment in advancing your career. We have record numbers of people attending this year, yet the genre-specific intensives provide an intimate setting, with a small class size. You can learn from a professional and get many of your individual questions answered.

Don’t miss your chance to learn from Colleen–someone with 2 million+ books in print who has been recognized for her efforts at helping other writers to succeed!

Colleen will teach the Intensive Session: “It’s Not Your Grandmother’s Inspirational Novel: Writing for a Changing Market.” The market has changed in recent years for inspirational novels. The genres run the gamut from Amish to vampire and everything in between. The market is hungry for great books that challenge and entertain.

MWW committee member Cathy Shouse caught up with Colleen with a few questions before Colleen headed off to Alaska.

Cathy: You’ve received too many accolades to list. Which career achievement or experience holds special significance and why?

Colleen: I adore the Best Books of Indiana award! It meant so much to me because it came from my home state. I’m such a Hoosier lover. 🙂

Cathy: How has going to conferences influenced your career — as an attendee and/or on faculty?

Colleen: A conference is crucial for an aspiring writer. It’s a place to network with other writers, learn more about the business of writing, and meet editors and agents. My first conference was the Midwest Writers Workshop 

many years ago. I won a scholarship, and it was the first time I’d even been around another writer. Being around others like me was such an encouragement. I realized I wasn’t totally weird just because I had characters talking to me in my head. I began to understand a bit more about this dream that had hold of me. The first thing an aspiring writer needs to understand is that writing is a business. Just like any business, it takes an investment. I consider attendance to at least one conference a year a crucial expense for success.

Cathy: Is there something you wish you had known earlier in your career that you can share with our readers?

Colleen: I wish I’d known how important it was to move on to the next book once I’d finished the first one. I kept tweaking and working on the first book instead of starting a new project. You learn to write by writing. Don’t make my mistake. Write that first book to the best of your ability, then start a new one while you’re sending out the first one.

Alternatively, if you are able to spend all three days with us for $360, you can also hear Colleen teach on the topics below, and get a chance to pitch to a literary agent.

Colleen’s Part II sessions (Friday and Saturday) include:

  • Layers: How to Raise Your Submission Out of the Slush Pile. Editors and agents see the same submissions over and over again. Colleen will discuss her rule of three for layering a compelling novel. If you don’t know what layers are, let alone how to figure them out, join in for a fun discussion as participants will have practice in layering.
  • The Joy of Revisions. Colleen believes revision is the best part of writing. Getting feedback from your editor or critique partner doesn’t have to be painful. Embrace the joy of revisions and learn the steps to take when tackling a rewrite.
  • Romancing the Idea: Coming Up with a New Novel. It’s time to start your next novel, but you don’t have a great idea yet. Colleen shares her unique approach to finding story. You’ll leave this fun, interactive class with a fresh dose of creativity that can springboard you to your next novel.

Interview with Barbara Shoup

Barb ShoupBarbara Shoup is the author of seven novels and the co-author of two books about the creative process. Her young adult novels, Wish You Were Here and Stranded in Harmony were selected as American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults. Vermeer’s Daughter was a School Library Journal Best Adult Book for Young Adults. She is the recipient of numerous grants from the Indiana Arts Council, two creative renewal grants from the Arts Council of Indianapolis, the 2006 PEN Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship, and the 2012 Eugene and Marilyn Glick Regional Indiana Author Award. Currently, she is the executive director of the Writers’ Center of Indiana. Her most recent novel is An American Tune.

MWW social media intern Rachael Heffner interviewed Barb for this week’s E-pistle.

Rachael: Your intensive at MWW is called Writing YA: Think Like a Teenager. I know you don’t want to give too much away, but can you give one tip on how to “think like a teenager”?

Barbara: That teenage person is still there, inside every one of us. If you’re like me, you can’t help thinking like a teenager, at least some of the time. If you’ve forgotten how to think like a teenager, this workshop will take you right back to that time in your life and put you in touch with the emotional perspective you need to get a YA novel right.

Rachael: You write both YA and adult novels. What’s the biggest difference for you in terms of writing these types of books, or is there a difference?

Barbara: I don’t consciously choose to write one or the other. I write the novels that seem possible to write–some of them are made of ideas that reflect the complexity of adult life; others, the rawness and self-absorption of adolescence. They are equally interesting to me and equally challenging. In several cases, novels that started out as adult novels became YA novels in process when I realized that the strongest voices and most compelling stories were those of the younger characters.

Rachael: You are quite a busy woman. You are Executive Director at the Indiana Writers Center. You’ve just published a new novel called An American Tune. Most writers have to struggle to balance family, work, and writing. How do you do it?

Barbara: I’m extremely fortunate to love everything I do. Everything is of a piece to me and everything feeds my writing, one way or another. Still, it’s a constant struggle to keep everything in balance. Usually I write for a few hours early each morning. Sometimes I escape for a week or so to a quiet place and work nonstop, which is heaven. That said, there are plenty of times when I get overwhelmed and find my real life creeping into the time I need for fiction–which is not a good thing because when I don’t write, I’m just not okay. So I try to catch myself when I feel things getting out of whack. Years ago I read this in a women’s magazine–probably about dieting, but it seemed dead on in terms of everything: “Discipline is remembering what you want.” I want to be a writer, so I choose it whenever I can. Slowly, the pages pile up.

Barb’s Part II sessions (Friday and Saturday) include:

  • The Particular Problems of Critiquing and Revising the Novel. Whether you work with a critique partner or regularly submit your novel to a workshop group, the process of critiquing a novel is completely different from critiquing a short story. Novels take a long time to write, they change as you write them, it’s hard to hold them in your head. And when you finally finish that first draft, how in the world are you supposed to look at it? This class will provide practical strategies for getting the useful insights from your readers, identifying problems in your novel, and creating a list of very specific issues you need to address to bring it closer to the novel you want it to be.
  • Historical Fiction. Would you like to live in another time, by way of writing fiction?  This class will provide an overview of the practical considerations of writing historical fiction, addressing such questions as: Where do you start? How do you keep your research from overwhelming the story? How true to the historical facts must you remain? How can you create characters true to the standards and knowledge of their time? And more.
  • Publishing in a Brave New World Panel: Sarah LaPolla, Roxane Gay, Barb Shoup, Jane Friedman, D.E. Johnson

Interview with Jane Friedman

This summer, Midwest Writers Workshop is offering two “Tech Intensives” in addition to our “Craft Intensives.” The always-amazing Jane Friedman will teach an all-day, hands-on class on “Creating an e-book.” For years, Jane has been coming to MWW to talk about why authors need to be tech savvy. This year, we’ll augment her message with hands-on lessons that will show you how to get those skills. Jane is the web editor for Virginia Quarterly Review and an e-media and publishing visionary with (lucky for us) Muncie roots.

Here’s Jane’s course description of her Tech Intensive:

Attendees will learn what you need to get started in e-publishing your work. There will also be assistants on hand to help you figure out the technology and work one-on-one. The industry has exploded with new and free opportunities to help you publish your work electronically, at little or no cost to you. Learn how to get visibility for your work by using online services that make your work available on major e-reading platforms such as Kindle, Nook, and iPad. While e-publishing doesn’t equal instant success (if you build it, they may NOT come), you’ll learn the principles behind the successful creation and distribution of an e-book, as well as the technical skill required to convert your work into different formats.

Jane was kind enough to answer a few questions for MWW, interviewed by committee member Cathy Day.

Cathy: We are so fortunate that you’ll be teaching this intensive class for us. I’m not going to ask you a question about e-publishing, because you’ve already said so much about this subject. I’ll just point people here and here. But I will ask you this: What should people bring with them to your session? How can they best prepare?

Jane: If people want to get the maximum practical value from the workshop, they should come prepared with a manuscript that they’d like to publish as an e-book. Most people will probably have a Word document to start with, and that’s perfect. However, even if you don’t yet have a manuscript or document ready for e-publishing, I guarantee you won’t be twiddling your thumbs. There’s a lot of territory to cover–both theory and nuts and bolts–and practice files will be provided for those without their own manuscript.

Cathy: Good to know! You’ve been coming to Midwest Writers for how many years now?

Kelsey Timmernan, Jane Friedman, Jama Bigger and Cathy Day chat in the atrium.

Kelsey Timmernan, Jane Friedman, Jama Bigger and Cathy Day chat in the atrium.

Jane: Since 2003! It’s like a family reunion for me. [She received the MWW prestigious Dorothy Hamilton Award in 2008 for her contributions to the on-going success of Midwest Writers Workshop.]

Cathy: So this will be your tenth anniversary then. I love to tell people about Midwest Writers. Why do you keep coming back? What’s special about this conference?

Jane: Two qualities combined make it very special: high-quality workshops and teachers in an accessible, friendly, welcoming atmosphere. It’s one of the few writers conferences where the faculty and the environment are so openly interactive and inviting of conversation.

Also, that sunlit atrium where people congregate. It may sound silly, but I think it has an impact on how cheerful the event is. It has an architecture of happiness.

Cathy: Thanks Jane. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to continue learning from you this summer.

Jane’s Part II sessions (Friday and Saturday) include:

  • Friday Lunch / Audience Development: Your Lifelong Career Investment
  • Publishing in a Brave New World Panel: Sarah LaPolla, Roxane Gay, Barb Shoup, Jane Friedman, D.E. Johnson
  • E-Publishing 101: Using Amazon and Other Major Online Retailers to Publish Your Work. This overview of the DIY e-book landscape will help you understand the major players, current strategies, and key challenges of successful self-publishing.
  • The Art and Business of Building an Author Platform. Writers are often scared or baffled by platform because it’s seen as a marketing and promotion mindset-antithetical to the artist mindset. However, there is a way to approach platform that isn’t about selling, but rather understanding human behavior (including your own!).

 

Interview with Lou Harry

Midwest Writers has an amazing faculty slated for our 40th workshop!

Returning to teach the Intensive Session (Thursday, July 25) “Writing Everything: A Freelancer Book of Tricks” is LOU HARRY.
MWW committee member Cathy Shouse interviewed Lou about his writing and why he believes writers should be “interested in everything.”

Harry LouQ. I’ve enjoyed seeing you when our paths have crossed at the Indiana Historical Society Holiday Author Fair in December and last week at the Indiana Travel Media Marketplace. You seem to have your thumb on the pulse of publishing as well as the arts in Indy. Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of how your current work came about? Also, are you as extroverted as you appear at these events?

Second answer first. I’m not really extroverted at all. I’m a terrible guest at parties if there isn’t a board game involved. But the combination of growing up working on the Wildwood, NJ, boardwalk and spending almost a decade working in comedy clubs taught me that you have to offer engagement if you want to engage. And I’m genuinely honored if someone wants to talk about the things I’ve written.

As to the first question, my current work is a wide range of things–my arts writing for IBJ (Indiana Business Journal), my theater writing, my book work. All of it, I suppose, came about because of a desire not to settle for doing okay, That means being a brutal editor of my own work but not to let that editor squelch me while I’m in the initial, freewriting phase (every book or play or article is the tip of the writing iceberg–there’s a LOT of material that I cut. Always.) And it means to constantly try to be a better communicator. Because that’s really the business we are in. It’s about figuring out how to pass on a story or pass on information or pass on a feeling in a way that makes it welcomed and understood by the receiver.

Q. It seems you’ve done it all, from working for an Indianapolis men’s magazine, to your current work as Arts and Entertainment Editor for the Indianapolis Business Journal, to my family’s favorite book of yours, The Biggest Trivia Book Ever. And the list goes on. What achievements are you particularly proud of, and/or do you have a project that is especially near and dear to your heart?

Pride is a tricky thing. It’s easy to be proud of the effect rather than the work. I’m proud, for instance, that I was able to negotiate a deal on a small book project years ago that still brings a royalty check every six months. And it’s fun to tell people that my novel was optioned by Warner Bros. But for the work itself, I’m proud of a short story I just rediscovered that I wrote in college. I’m proud of a one-act play called “Predictable” that does everything I want it to do even though I didn’t know while writing it what I wanted it to do. And there’s a poem or two where I feel I brought a clarity that I can’t really source. I don’t know where they came from. That’s usually the work I’m oddly proudest of, the stuff that comes from an unplanned place.

Q. Your intensive at MWW13 this summer, Writing Everything: A Freelancer Book of Tricks, encourages attendees to “be interested in just about everything.” This is a bit of a contrarian approach from those saying to specialize. What is one reason, or three, that writers need to generalize to succeed?

Well, one reason is because it usually makes you a more interesting human being. The person who knows exactly who he or she is is usually the person not open to other ideas and visions. They aren’t having a relationship with you. They’re lecturing. The best writers, I think, are curious. They research because they want to learn. They write because they want to figure out how to arrange what they’ve learned and discover what questions remain. Another reason for being open to lots of subjects is survival. A significant percentage of my freelance career–especially early on–has been on assignments whose subjects I had little knowledge of before taking the gig. That doesn’t mean don’t specialize. But it does mean don’t build walls too high around your specialty. The first column I wrote–which evolved into my first book–was on U.S. History, a subject I knew little about when I made a case for myself to be the column’s writer.

Q. Please share something about yourself that might help people to know you better, to feel more at ease upon meeting you for the first time this summer. Be sure to include that most important question: PC or MAC?

I’m just a blue-collar kid from the Jersey shore who picked his college based on the fact that, at Temple U., foreign language wasn’t a requirement. (I just couldn’t make my mind work that way.) I’m writing the stuff now that I feel I should have been writing 15 years ago. I feel lost at the beginning of just about every writing project.

PC.

Q.  Do you have tips on getting the most out of a conference?

Don’t come in looking for approval or validation or flattery. Come in wanting to leave a stronger, more motivated writer. Don’t be afraid to take a step back in order to make a leap forward.

Q. What would you say to those on the fence about coming to MWW13?

It can’t be very comfortable sitting on a fence. And, besides, people are starting to talk.

Q. Please share whatever else might be on your mind. 

Writing is a relationship you instigate.

Hank Phillippi Ryan Interview

Hank Phillippi Ryan to speak at MWW 40th

hank-phillippi-ryan-crop-pressHank Pillippi Ryan is an investigative reporter for Channel 7 News on WHDH-TV, the NBC-affiliate station for Boston, Massachusetts. A native of Indianapolis, she attended Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, and also studied abroad at the International School in Hamburg, Germany. Ryan joined WHDH-TV in 1983 as a general assignment reporter. In 1989, she was named principal reporter for the station’s investigative unit. Ryan has won 28 Emmy Awards and 12 Edward R. Murrow Awards for her investigative and consumer reporting.
Her first published novel, Prime Time, won the Agatha Award for best new mystery of 2007, featuring Boston investigative reporter Charlotte “Charlie” McNally. Her follow-up mystery, Face Time, was published in 2008 (and re-issued in 2009) and was a Book Sense Notable Book.
Her newest thriller, The Other Woman, is the big news! Published by Forge in September 2012, it is nominated for the MWA/MARY HIGGINS CLARK award, selected as one of Suspense Magazine’s Best Books of 2012, and named a TOP BOOK OF 2012 by the Kansas City Star.
“Fabulous! Fabulous! Want to know why everyone is talking about Hank Phillippi Ryan’s sizzling new thriller? Because with its frenetic pace, twisty plot, and superbly realized characters, The Other Woman is the book you need to read next! Don’t miss it!”  ~ Julie Hyzy

For MWW13, Hank will talk about planning your crime novel and ways to jumpstart your writing. MWW committee member Cathy Shouse interviewed Hank about her dual careers and coming to MWW this summer.

Q. Since meeting you at the writing conference in Washington D.C. in 2009, it seems your writing career has exploded with good news. Plus, you have that amazing Day Job. Please give us a thumbnail sketch of how you’ve become an “overnight success.”

HANK: Overnight success! Thank you. Pausing to laugh now, of course. I stated writing in 20..05? When I was 55. I’ve always wanted to write mysteries, but it wasn’t ’til then that I had a good idea! But when I did, I was just obsessed with writing the story. I was such a newbie, I had no idea what to do or how to connect or anything about the system. And that was probably such a good thing–it’s so daunting, isn’t it? And if you understand reality, it all seems impossible. Happily, I was clueless, and persevered. And that has served me well.

I simply–work. I’m organized, I’m driven, I’m curious, I’m happy when others succeed. I’m truly interested in paying it forward. I am open to new things, and to being disappointed and challenged and lucky.

Q. What is the best tip–or three, you would give writers in the early stage of the journey?

HANK: *Anything is possible, right?  If you persist?

*You never know what wonderful thing is around the next corner, so don’t quit five minutes before the miracle.

* Thinking of writing a whole book is incredibly difficult –but thinking about writing a page a day isn’t so tough. So set reasonable goals, ones you can meet–like writing a page a day. Do that and you’ll be finished with your book in just a year!

*Celebrate a good chapter, or a good idea, or the solution to a problem.

*Have fun! It’s fun, it’s rewarding, it’s creative.

*Don’t worry–because worrying will not make a spot of difference.

Okay, that’s more than three. How about: Embrace editing.

Q. Midwest Writers Workshop 2013 is mere months away. What do you aim for as a writing workshop instructor?

HANK: If people in my sessions can go home with just one terrific life-changing idea or inspiration, I’m happy. Everything I teach won’t be valuable to everyone every day–but I live for the moments when I imagine someone at their desk, writing, and saying,”OH! That’s what Hank meant!” That’s a terrific vision.

I love to hear the dilemmas individual writers face and work with them to untangle their thoughts and come up with solutions. Sometimes writers know SO much about their stories, it’s difficult to see the narrative path. I am eager to help them find their way. Sometimes writers don’t know enough about their stories–and I use my TV interview techniques to encourage them to imagine and think and suppose…and then send them on their way.

My goal is to inspire! And then watch other writers be happy. 

Q. At Indiana Romance Writers of America a few years ago, you spoke on how working in TV news helped your writing.  What is one tip from that presentation? 

HANK: Just do it. You know? Just write. Don’t fuss, don’t procrastinate, don’t make excuses. As a TV reporter, I have to have my stories done by deadline. Sometimes, I don’t feel like doing it. Doesn’t matter. Sometimes, I know my writing isn’t the best it can be–but the news isn’t going to wait. When I have a deadline, I have no choice. So I translate that to my fiction writing. I have a word goal for the day, and I do it. Sometimes it stinks. That’s fine. Unlike TV reporters, as fiction authors, we have the true luxury of being able to tweak and edit and fix and change…but as Nora Roberts always says, you can’t fix a blank page.  So pretend you have a deadline. You do.

Q. Everyone’s goal seems to be to write full-time. What advantages are there to keeping the Day Job, if any? 

HANK: Well, first of all, I love it. I’ve been a TV reporter for 37 years! And every day is a joy. (Well, almost every day.) I’m curious about the world, and this job lets me explore that with a kind of access most people don’t have. I get to talk to–and interview and confront-all kinds of people and go all kinds of places.  So when people ask–did you do a lot of research for your new book?–I say well, I’ve been doing research for the last 37 years! Now, I get to spend my day as a journalist, and (informally) do book research at the same time!

It does make writing time more precious and difficult to schedule…and as a result, I have to be incredibly organized and focused. Luckily, knock on wood, I am.

Q. Tell us about your Indiana roots and anything else, quirky or serious, that we should know before meeting you in Muncie in July.

HANK: We moved to Indianapolis from Chicago when I was five…I went to–School 53? Is there such a thing? And then we moved far out into the suburbs, to Zionsville, when I was 10 or so. It was so rural back then, we could not see another house from our house. We used to ride our ponies into town. I went to Pike High School, when I was the geeky nerdy Twilight-Zone watching outcast. As a senior, to my enduring shame, I was voted “Most Individual.”  It was years later when I realized that was a good thing. I worked at the Dairy Queen in Zionsville–that was my first summer job! I also worked for two summers at the Lyric Record store. (Records. Remember?) I still have family in Indiana-in Carmel.

And my first grown-up up job was in Indiana too, as a staffer on several political campaigns. Anyone old as I am and remember Matt Welsh? Terry Straub?  My first job in broadcasting was at WIBC Radio–remind me to tell you about that some day! And then in television at WTHR. (With Paul Udell and Renee Ferguson-anyone? Anyone?)

Q. Is there anything you would like to add, and please include your next release or whatever you are working on?

HANK: SO delighted to say–THE OTHER WOMAN is now in third printing, hurray, and made several “Best of 2012” lists in including the Boston Globe, Kansas City Star, Oline Cogdill, and Suspense Magazine.

The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan
The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan

My next book, THE WRONG GIRL will be out in hardcover from Forge this fall. What’s it about?  I’ll have to practice this-but “What if you didn’t know the truth about your own family? Jane Ryland suspects a top-notch adoption agency is reuniting birth parents with the wrong children.” It’s scary, let me tell you! I love to write stories about everyday things that are not what they seem.

Very excited about that! And now I am on the hunt for the plot of the next book. Where do ideas come from?  That’s the most difficult one of all! But that’s a question for another day. Can’t wait to see you all!

 

Interview with MWW fave John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of nine thrillers, the latest of which is Damage Control. His previous books include Threat Warning, Hostage Zero, No Mercy, Six Minutes to Freedom, Scott Free, Even Steven, At All Costs, and Nathan’s Run; four have been Literary Guild selections. His novels have been translated into more than 20 languages.

For MWW13, John will present “Writing Commercial Fiction,” as well as sessions on writing a series and suspense writing. MWW committee member Cathy Shouse interviewed John about his MWW appearances and his writing career.

Q.  How many times have you been on the MWW faculty? Any special memories you’d like to share? Mine would be MWW 2010 when you and Marcus Sakey did a rowdy, memorable “secrets to getting published” session. Finally, how has being on MWW faculty impacted your career?

MWW is one of my favorite conferences.  How many have I been to?  At least three, I think, but there might have been a fourth a long time ago.  (That would actually make it the first, wouldn’t it?  Ah, well . . .)

I agree that that session with Marcus was a highlight. Not just because he’s a great guy and a brilliant writer, but because the entire session was ad-libbed.  The writer he was originally paired with that day suffered a family emergency and had to back out at the last minute.  I was asked to pinch-hit, and was more than happy to step in.  The timing was such, though, that Marcus and I had no time to compare notes or choreograph anything.  Since we’re both comfortable in front of an audience, we decided to wing it, and it ended up going really, really well.

Truthfully, I enjoy every aspect of the conference, from teaching the sessions to critiquing manuscripts.

Q. As a New York Times Bestselling author, you must have had many high points in your career. What’s been your favorite award/recognition/memory?

Probably my most significant pinch-me moment came when my family and I were invited to Dino DeLaurentiis’s 80th birthday party on the Isle of Capri in Italy. There we were on Dino’s boat on a beautiful day, swimming off the side in the Mediterranean. That was pretty special. Most special of all, of course–and I think this is probably true of most novelists–is that first phone call telling me that my agent had sold my first book.  It felt every bit like the new beginning that it turned out to be.

Q. Catch us up with the latest– what you’re working on now, releases, etc.

HIGH TREASON, the fifth book in my Jonathan Grave series will come out next summer, and right now, I am working on two projects within the same series.  One is the sixth book, as yet untitled, and barely even plotted, but first there’ll be an e-book novella that will chronicle how Jonathan Grave and Irene Rivers–the director of the FBI in the series–first met.

Q. What are some advantages for pre-published and published authors to attend conferences? How did conferences influence your writing, if you attended any before publication?

I didn’t even know there were such things as writers’ conferences when I was penning the book that became NATHAN’S RUN.  Having been in the biz now for over 15 years, I think that conferences can be extremely valuable to writers of all stripes and at all stages in their careers.  The trick to learning from sessions and panels is to listen with an open yet skeptical mind.  This is a creative business, which by definition means that there are no rules for storytelling.  What works for me may have no value to another writer, because we all sift our stories through the filters of our own imaginations.  It’s important to take from any session that which resonates, and to feel free to reject that which does not resonate.

From the business side of writing (as opposed to the artistic side), the best value comes from time around the bar.  Like any other industry, this is a business of networking and contacts.  All else being equal, the chances of success increase dramatically with each new contact you make.

Q. One year, you shared with our attendees the downside of getting a large advance. How do insider tips and knowledge of how publishing works help a writer?

Quoting from that cinematic masterpiece, ANIMAL HOUSE, “Knowledge is Good.”  Many new writers make the mistake of believing that their aspirations begin and end with the creation of a work.  The reality is that our little corner of the entertainment business is exactly that–a business.  It makes no more sense to enter into a book contract without knowing about the publishing industry than it would to open a restaurant without researching the food service industry.  Authors walk into traps every day–willingly, it seems–with their eyes closed.  Standard book contracts are predatory and awful.  It takes a good agent or a lawyer to cut through the crap to give the author a chance of success.

I advise writers to assume that their novel is their million-dollar retirement plan, and to perform all the due diligence research for a book sale that they would do to invest in any other business.

Q. Is there something about a writing career that you wish you had known sooner?

I was surprised how isolating it is.  Not only is a book produced in solitude, there are precious few people in any one community to talk to about it.  In fact, more than a few people are put off by the fact of one’s being a professional writer.  At one level, I think that everyone believes they could write a book if only they could carve out the time to do so. It’s not until they give it a shot that they realize how damn difficult it can be. Eight years ago, I became so frustrated by the isolation that I went back to a high-pressure day job. To date, I am the only artist I know who walked away from full-time writing to go back to the daily grind. Curiously, I’m more prolific as a part-time author than I ever was a full-time author. Go figure.

Q. Is there anything you would like to add?

Just that I’m looking forward to another July in Muncie!

****

John’s quote from MWW 2010…”Over the years, I’ve participated in more conferences than I can count, but time after time, Midwest Writers Workshop ranks among the best of the best. The students are anxious to learn, the faculty comes to teach, and the result is electrifying. Anytime you want me back, just say the word, and I’m there.”

DID YOU KNOW??

John’s first Jonathan Grave novel, No Mercy, mentions Muncie, Indiana??

Jonathan Grave has an extraordinary job. He covertly rescues people. Moreover, he operates under his own system of justice. He does not go out of his way to abuse or kill people, but when he deems it necessary he does so without qualms. He does not so much operate in defiance of the police but rather, since his objectives are different, outside it. If it is necessary for some people to die in order that those objectives be fulfilled so be it.

For his services Jonathan is well paid. He has some military experience which is useful in developing rescue plans and he has connections which allow him to literally fly beneath the radar. He has handpicked his assistants, most notably, Venice (pronounced Ven EE chay) Alexander whose computer skills know no limit.

In this endeavor, Jonathan has been hired to find and rescue Thomas Hughes, the college age son of Stephenson Hughes. Thomas was abducted from his girlfriend’s home in Muncie, Indiana.

 

Interview with agent Brooks Sherman

Meet Brooks Sherman!

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

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

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

He is seeking

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

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

Q. How do you think attending a writing conference and speaking with you personally helps an author seeking representation and have you found some of your clients at writing conferences?

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

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

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

Q. What are some insider tips for making a successful pitch to you and how should someone who did not get an official pitch session approach you (if you are okay with that)?

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

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

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