Explore how to live a more creative life | with Melissa Fraterrigo | MWW19

Meet fiction author Melissa Fraterrigo

Melissa Fraterrigo is the author of the novel  Glory Days  (University of Nebraska Press, 2017) which was named one of the Best Fiction Books of 2017 by the  Chicago Review of Books ; she is also the author of the short story collection  The Longest Pregnancy  (Livingston Press). Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in more than forty literary journals and anthologies from Shenandoah  and  The Massachusetts Review to story  South , and  Notre Dame Review . She teaches classes on the art and craft of writing at the Lafayette Writers’ Studio in Lafayette, Indiana.

During MWW19, July 25-26, Melissa will teach  The Write Start: Cultivating Creativity.”  In this session, Melissa explains, “You will learn how to turn your love for the written word into practical experience. Whether you are new to writing, have an idea you are interested in pursuing, or write regularly but need a reboot, in this class we will explore how to live a more creative life.”

On Friday morning, Melissa will teach  Finding Your Personal Essay Through Play” where participants will discover how form can be used to structure personal essays to reveal unexpected insights and create momentum through play. In the afternoon, she will present  Exploring the Novel-in-Stories.” She asks, ” What do  Olive Kitteridge  by Elizabeth Strout, Cathy Day’s  Circus in Winter  and  Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson have in common?” The answer: All are novels-in-stories, existing between a collection of stories and a novel. Those attending this session will leave with a clear idea of possible linkages in their fiction and how to build upon these for their own linked collection.

MWW alum and volunteer Stephen Terrell asked Melissa a few interview questions to help us learn a bit more about her as a writer and faculty member.

MWW: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

MF: I have always loved writing and penned my first book when I was in the first grade. It was called “The Littlest Pukin” (I think I was inspired by “The Littlest Angel”; pukin was actually supposed to be pumpkin) and I can still remember how glorious I felt flipping the pages of my book, showing it to my parents. I always felt a kinship with words and stories and in many ways, I think I was destined to work with stories in some fashion; only it took me a long time to get to where I am. Despite that, I’ve got to say I have the best job in the world.

 

MWW: What is the Lafayette Writers Studio?  How did it come about? What do you want people to know about the Lafayette Writers Studio?

MF: I taught high school and junior high English for three years after earning my bachelor’s degree. My first job out of college was teaching high school English in a small town in downstate Illinois where the job prospects were few and many of my students were from families that were struggling both financially and emotionally. I really liked my students and loved talking to them about literature, but during that year my grandmother passed and I did some hard thinking about how I wanted to spend my own days. I hadn’t forgotten the desire to be a writer, only I didn’t know how to be a writer and also pay bills.

Somewhere during that first year I told myself to just start writing–just a little bit. I found the more I wrote, the more I enjoyed it. That summer I took at class at the University of Illinois at Chicago–my first fiction class–and met two other women who were also interested in fiction and poetry. For three years we met on a monthly basis to share work with one another and offer each other feedback. I have no doubt that without their support I would not be where I am today. Writers need other writers, and these two friends provided the support and encouragement I so desperately desired.

I love my parents with all my heart, but they were children of parents who survived the Depression. Working toward a degree that would get you a job, which in turn would pay some solid salary mattered more than doing work that fulfilled. Fortunately, I listened to my gut and kept writing, following the thrum of excitement I felt each time I drafted a new story or had an idea for a piece.

I attended Bowling Green State University and met a fantastic cohort of writers and instructors of writing–most of whom I’m in contact with today. This community of writers was essential for building the “literary family” that I craved–folks who were also driven to create worlds from their imaginations. We encouraged each other and continue to do so.  I taught at Southern Utah University, Penn State Erie–all the while working on fine-tuning my short story collection, The Longest Pregnancy was published in 2006. With time, I shifted into freelance writing for different universities. However, I still missed teaching and three years ago established the Lafayette Writers’ Studio to combine my love for teaching with my desire to help others tell their stories. I started my forthcoming novel, Glory Days a few years before I opened the studio.

The Lafayette Writers’ Studio is a place where writers of all experiences and backgrounds can learn about the art and craft of writing in an intimate, encouraging environment. We offer a range of classes from one-night intensives to workshops that last several weeks. It’s really a wonderful place with amazing students from all walks of life.

 

MWW: Working at the Lafayette Writers Studio, what are the three biggest suggestions you have for writers looking to improve their craft?

MF: I encourage writers to read like a writer, and approach texts seeking answers to the questions they have about their own work and craft in general. Every writer is different and as such, no one approach is going to help each and every writer get words on the page. As a result, I encourage students to take the time to get know themselves and their process.

 

MWW: Can you compare the process you go through in writing a short story compared to a novel? What makes one story more appropriate for a short story and another suitable for a more extensive treatment in a novel?

MF: My first book,   The Longest Pregnancy,   was published in 2006. About 1/3 of the book was written as part of my graduate thesis at Bowling Green State University. The stories really were stand alone pieces and I was nearly finished with the book before I started to see how they might fit together. I started my novel,  Glory Days   a few years before I opened the Lafayette Writers’ Studio and the first chapter I wrote for the book–“Teensy’s Daughter” actually appears ¾ of the way through the book. I initially thought I was just writing a story, only after I finished drafting “Teensy’s Daughter” I continued to think about three of the characters–Gardner, Teensy, and his daughter Luann. So I wrote another story with Gardner and Teensy at a much earlier part in their lives and found that I still had more to uncover. I was absolutely fascinated by these characters and once I realized how the town of Ingleside was a part of the conflict of the book, I knew there was a whole novel to be unearthed. So to answer your question, I really think it begins with the author’s own interest in the story and whether it can be sustained.

 

MWW: How do you channel real life experiences in your fiction – or do you? 

MF: I keep a small notebook with me at all times and jot down ideas whenever they strike–it could be an arresting image or a word or lately, a lot of memories from my own childhood. Some writers call this rich content “composting.” Just like you might mix together certain ingredients to make a soil healthy, you can use elements of your life and what you find interesting to create memorable characters and situations.

 

MWW: What are the most satisfying aspects of writing for you? Conversely, what are the most frustrating or difficult aspects of being a writer, and how do you cope with those issues.

MF: I love revision, I love the thrum of a new idea, I find structure immensely satisfying and there is nothing better than discovering a new writer who fuels my work. Yet the days are long and can be rather lonely. It’s important to surround yourself with other writers who can support and encourage you when the work isn’t going the way you initially envisioned.

 

MWW: I’ve seen Glory Days referred to as “Fly Over Fiction,” a term I’ve heard applied to other writing about middle America. Yet when I look at the wish list of literary agents, I never see “flyover” or “middle America” mentioned. Given that this is the Midwest Writers Workshop, do you think there is a place in the current fiction market for “flyover fiction”, that is, fiction that has its roots in the people, places, challenges and values of middle America? 

MF: I actually think there is an increasing interest in the Midwest as a place with its own identity, culture and values, which is quite separate from the coasts. That being said, I don’t sense that flyover fiction or Midwest literature is a concern of the big publishing houses. But smaller indie presses such as Nebraska University Press , Graywolf, Coffee House Press do not offer huge advances and therefore don’t have the same constraints as large publishing houses so they can pursue topics and approaches that appeal to different audiences, and this includes a newfound interest in work that is often overlooked such as flyover fiction.

 

MWW: Rejection is the most common shared experience among most writers. Do you have any advice for dealing with rejection from publications, agents or publishers? 

MF: I think it’s always important to keep in mind why you are writing. Are you writing because you want to become rich and famous? Are you writing to prove to your high school English teacher that you had more potential than the C- he gave you your sophomore year? While all of us dream of sharing our work with a wide audience, I think it’s much more realistic to think that the results of our efforts may not play out the way we imagine. The work you do must be the reward–publication, awards, all of those moments when you and your work are in the spotlight are fleeting. But the work is with you for the long haul. Try not to focus to much on those outside forces you cannot control and instead honor your relationship with your craft and your writing.

 

MWW: What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given about being a writer or about life in general?   What was the worst?

MF: Read everything you can get your hands on and don’t just read your genre–everyone should read poetry! Write! Put yourself on a writing schedule and commit to writing regularly. Even if you are only sitting at your desk twiddling your thumbs, the longer you sit there, the more ideas will come to you. As you begin to take note of those thoughts by jotting them down or mulling them over in your mind, your brain will send you even more ideas. Writing begins with paying attention to your world and your surroundings and choosing to be curious with your own thoughts and reflections. I think writing helps you be your best self-at least that’s what it continues to do for me.

 

MWW: Any last thoughts or comments that you want to share with those considering the MWW19?

MF: Come write with us!

Come to MWW19 and meet Melissa! Register here.

Pitch to Joanna MacKenzie at the MWW Agent Fest

Meet Joanna MacKenzie, literary agent with Nelson Literary Agency  

Joanna MacKenzie joined Nelson Literary Agency in 2017 and is building a list of adult titles in the areas of mystery, thriller, and commercial women’s fiction as well as select young adult passion projects. She loves creepy islands, mysteries set in close-knit communities (if those communities happen to be in the Midwest, all the better), and fierce mom heroines. Joanna is looking for smart and timely women’s fiction where the personal intersects with the world at large, think Emily Giffin’s All We Ever Wanted or Camille Perri’s The Assistants.

Joanna’s Wish List:

Her list includes: mysteries, atmospheric thrillers, women’s fiction, moms with secret lives, anything set on a creepy island (or any island, really), midwestern-set mysteries/thrillers/fiction, re-invention stories (She’d love to find more about women in their 40s and 50s reinventing themselves following tragedy or break-ups). She’d also love to find a Beaches redux (aka friendship stories).

MWW Board Member Dianne Drake interviewed Joanna about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest.

MWW: Could you give us a little background of the agency you represent and the overall philosophy or focus of your agency?

JM: Nelson Literary Agency was found by Kristin Nelson in 2002. We are a full-service agency and though we may look like a boutique agency, we don’t operate like one. We have amazing support staff who, for example, tackle things like royalty statement review and contracts, so agents can focus on their authors.

 

MWW: Because you primarily represent fiction, what makes fiction masterful in your eyes? 

JM: For me, masterful fiction has voice and a sense of place. I want to get swept away, no matter what the genre, and transported to a new locale and I want to go on that adventure with a fascinating host.

 

MWW: Besides “good writing,” what are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile? Conversely, what are you tired of seeing? 

JM: I’m actually getting a lot of great stuff right now! So please keep it coming. I’m always down to confident voice, even if, and sometimes especially if, that voice is unexpected and new to me.  When I pray to the slush pile deity, I specifically ask for the next Tana French.  Or the next  All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin or the next  Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Personally, I’m a little tired of drunk cops down on their luck. I think there’s a fresh way to approach this character.

 

MWW: As an agent who’s being pitched, what do you want to hear in the allotted time? What don’t you want to hear?

JM: I want to hear a clear statement on what I’m being pitched, even if it’s wrong. Tell me you’ve written an 80,000 word thriller that will appeal to fans of Gone Girl, rather than an 80,000 word novel that might be a thriller, but could be women’s fiction and will appeal to everyone who has ever picked up a book. It’s up to me, ultimately, to decide if your comps are right, but I want to hear the clear idea.

 

MWW: What, in general, should a person do to make a good impression during a pitch session and what, specifically, should she/he do to impress you? And, if you like, what doesn’t impress you at all?  

JM: I love it when authors can place their manuscripts on a shelf for me, when they tell me of comparable titles.

 

MWW: Any other advice?

JM: Practice and don’t be nervous. Easier said than done, I know, but I’m here to help and to listen. And I’m a nice Canadian, now Midwestern, person. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s rare to have face to face time with an agent.

 

MWW: Also, what do you represent, and do you have preferences within that list? 

JM: I represent commercial adult fiction in the areas of women’s fiction, mysteries and thrillers, as well as select young adult projects. Right now, I’m drawn to female stories of reinvention (women on their second or third acts or finding new direction after a life-altering event); moms with secret lives (think Weeds); and women pushed to the limit who push back (think Widows).  I’m also a fan of Midwest stories as well as creepy islands.

 

Come to the Agent Fest and pitch to Joanna!

Read more about the MWW Agent Fest: May 10-11, 2019.

Register Today!

Click here to register.

Friday 1:00 pm through Saturday 5:00 pm. {$249 / $289 after 4/1/19}

Prepare. Pitch. Publish. #preppitchpub

You want agents. We’ve got agents.

5 ways to rock your writing

Registration for MWW19 is now available!

Here are FIVE ways to rock your writing by coming to MWW19, July 25-27, 2019:

ENJOY NETWORKING OPPORTUNITIES

This is a chance to find your tribe. Network between or during sessions, over lunch, and of course at the evening activities.

 

GET MENTORED BY THE BEST

Learn from a faculty with award-winning bestsellers who will help refine your work and propel your career. Check out the faculty bios.

 

CREATE YOUR IDEAL EXPERIENCE

Choose from dozens of breakout sessions. Stretch yourself and select sessions outside of your comfort zone! Check out the schedule.

 

HONE YOUR FIRST 10 PAGES

The Saturday Intensives offer hands-on editing for your fiction or nonfiction manuscripts.

 

DEVELOP A STRATEGIC LAUNCH PLAN FOR YOUR WORK

Saturday Bootcamp with Jane Friedman, for published authors or about-to-be-published authors, will help you come up with an action plan.

 

Come for the creative energy that is MWW19…

  • Choose Your Genre: YA, Mystery, Middle Grade, Nonfiction, Poetry, Essay, Feature Writing
  • Fortify Your Writing: Editing and Revision, Cultivate Creativity, Form a Writing Habit, Research
  • Cross the Finish Line: Author Platform and Career Development Bootcamp
  • Manuscript Makeovers: Fiction, Nonfiction, Mystery, Romance, plus Nonfiction Book Proposal Workshop

Sometimes you just need to be surrounded by your people, to work on your craft, to get energized.

Come.

See what happens!

What writing will you produce after you leave? What friends will you make to hold you accountable? What impact will you give have on others in the writing community?

**MWW began in 1973 and has years of experience helping writers move forward in their writing journey.**

MWW hotel group rates available.

Register Today!

THREE-DAY: Thursday-Saturday, July 25-27, 2019

  • $399 [includes: Thursday reception, Friday & Saturday morning refreshments, lunches]
  • THREE-DAY REGISTRATION HERE.

TWO-DAY: Thursday-Friday, July 25-26, 2019

  • $289 [includes: Thursday reception, Friday morning refreshments, lunch]
  • TWO-DAY REGISTRATION HERE.

ONE-DAY: Saturday, July 27, 2019. [Intensive Sessions; small class, six-hour master session with an expert]

  • $155 [includes: morning refreshments and lunch]
  • ONE-DAY REGISTRATION HERE

Pitch to Brenna English-Loeb at the MWW Agent Fest!

Meet Brenna English-Loeb, literary agent with Transatlantic Literary Agency  

Brenna English-Loeb comes to the Transatlantic Literary Agency after working for several years at Janklow & Nesbit Associates and Writers House, where she had the pleasure of working with New York Times bestselling and award-winning authors across multiple genres. At TLA she’s excited to grow her list of speculative and suspenseful fiction in both YA and adult, as well as adult nonfiction, in collaboration with senior agents.

Raised on an eclectic blend of Jane Austen, Terry Pratchett and Ursula K Le Guin, Brenna has always gravitated to unique stories with a strong point of view. Aspects of a work that are sure to catch her eye include: evocative atmospheres, character-driven plots, a sense of adventure, and narratives that reveal a deep knowledge of a particular subject. She also loves old tropes made new again, unreliable narrators, and power imbalances.

Brenna’s Wish List:

She is specifically looking for works of YA and adult science fiction, fantasy, and suspense, as well as some adult literary fiction. She loves space operas, myth and fairy tale retellings, survival stories, epistolary novels, and heists. She also has a soft spot for stories that blend multiple genres and for works by and about underrepresented groups and identities. For nonfiction, Brenna is looking for serious, groundbreaking sociological work that holds our culture up to the magnifying glass. She also loves accounts of historical events and people that deserve to be better known, as well as unusual and influential object histories.

MWW Board Member Julie Tuttle Davis interviewed Brenna about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest.

MWW: According to your bio you represent YA and adult science fiction, fantasy, and suspense, and some adult literary fiction. What are you looking for right now and not getting? Conversely, what are you tired of seeing? 
BEL: I would really love to see more westerns, but ones that center on nonwhite characters or are set elsewhere than the American West. And if there’s some magic or a really good mystery in there, so much the better. I’m also looking for own voices, YA KPop stories.
I’ve been getting a glut of YA fantasies and political thrillers, and I’m just not in a place to engage with any more of them right now. Another turn off for me is anything with angels and demons, particularly if they’re also romances.
MWW: When you tackle the slush pile, what are you looking for in a query letter?
BEL: The biggest thing I’m looking for is clarity. After reading a query letter, I should know the story’s premise and main characters and the author’s writing history/bio. It doesn’t have to be very long or more complex than that. I think a lot of people get flustered by trying to be friendly or make their manuscript sound as exciting as possible, but unfortunately what often happens is that I don’t understand what you’re trying to sell me on.
MWW: What makes you keep reading (or stop reading) a manuscript?
BEL: There are two things that will keep me from continuing to read. The first is if I’m having trouble caring about the characters, whether because they’re not well-developed or just because they’re not clicking with me. The second issue that stops me is when the plot and character relationships stagnate. I need to see that they’re headed somewhere in particular and not just reacting to isolated events.
MWW: Is there something out now or coming out soon that you’re excited about?
BEL: I just read The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie, which is amazing. Once again, she’s managed to upend our expectations of a genre and I can’t wait for everyone else to read it. I’m also looking forward to diving into King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo and revisiting some of the characters from her Grisha Trilogy.
MWW: Any final advice for writers seeking an agent at MWW Agent Fest?
BEL: Don’t try to force it. You’re interviewing an agent as much as they’re interviewing you, and not everyone is going to be the right fit for you and your work, regardless of what they think! Having a clear idea of what you need in an agent will help everyone involved.

Come to the Agent Fest and pitch to Brenna!

Read more about the MWW Agent Fest: May 10-11, 2019.

Register Today!

Click here to register.

Friday 1:00 pm through Saturday 5:00 pm. {$249 / $289 after 4/1/19}

Prepare. Pitch. Publish. #preppitchpub

You want agents. We’ve got agents.

Pitch to literary agent Noah Ballard at the MWW Agent Fest!

Meet Noah Ballard, literary agent with Curtis Brown, Ltd. 

Noah Ballard is an agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd. He studied creative writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and began his career in publishing at Emma Sweeney Agency. Noah focuses on literary fiction, short story collections and narrative non-fiction, including memoir, journalism and pop culture. Noah has appeared at graduate writing programs and writers’ conferences across the country speaking about query letters, building nonfiction platforms and submission etiquette. A New Jersey native, Noah currently lives in Brooklyn.

MWW Board Member Larry Sweazy interviewed Noah about his life as an agent and what he’s looking for on his Manuscript Wish List.

MWW: All writers were voracious readers before they became writers. It seems this would be true of agents, too. Can you tell us about a book, or books, that affected you, and influenced your choice to become an agent?

NB: I don’t know that I agree with the premise of the question, that writers are all voracious readers. I think all successful writers are voracious readers, especially of contemporary authors. It’s pretty amazing, however, the amount of writers who pitch me work who haven’t read a book that’s been published in the past ten years.

As a college student, I was drawn to so-called transgressive fiction. From Charles Bukowski to John Fante up to Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney. That’s a pretty easy space to be excited by as a middle-class, White student, when bad behavior (by White men) seems controversial. And I suppose it is, compared to the boring (White, male) authors I read in high school. But as I reached the end of college, I also discovered James Baldwin and Evan S. Connell and Bernard Malamud and Joan Didion, etc., etc. That’s where the real controversy of American late 20th century literature lives, and I am inspired by authors who seem themselves as following in those traditions.

MWW: What makes a query stand out?

NB: In terms of the actual letter: professionalism. Many authors make the mistake of writing the letter with a lot of voice, or waxing unnecessarily poetic or, worse, attempting to appeal to my sympathy. I’m looking for a writer who will collaborate and be a savvy business partner, not someone who doesn’t know how to write a professional e-mail. Why would I risk my reputation for such a person?

In terms of the writing sample, which I always ask be included in the query, there I’m looking for voice and confidence. Tell me a story in a way I haven’t heard it before and be brave in the telling.

MWW: What are the most important questions should a new writer ask an agent?

NB: “What is your vision for the publication of my book?” “What editorial work do I need to do before the book can be submitted to editors?” “Which editors do you have in mind?” “What is your working style?” “Does your agency represent translation and film/TV rights?” “Are you a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives?” “Do you only expect payment once you’ve sold my book?” (The latter must an unconditional YES!)

MWW: With the publishing industry in a constant state of change, are you encouraged about the future of publishing?

NB: Publishing has allegedly been dying for 100 years. (The novel is dead; long live the novel!) But the truth is people need stories, and the medium continues to grow and change and evolve. Authors have to be bigger advocates for themselves than ever before, but I don’t know that that’s a bad thing. There are things that frustrate me, for sure. Mostly the myopia of how books are marketed and publicized. But a generation of young people-both on the business side and on the creative side-are rallying to celebrate more diverse authors, more controversial ideas, more unexplored stories. That’s as exciting and as scary as our current political moment.

MWW: What kind of projects will you be looking for at MWW Agent Fest?

NB: Intelligent, diverse, ruthless, unapologetic literary fiction. Plucky, confrontational, progressive, emotionally-driven non-fiction, especially memoir and pop culture.

Come pitch to Noah!

Read more about the MWW Agent Fest: May 10-11, 2019.

Register Today!

Click here to register.

Friday 1:00 pm through Saturday 5:00 pm. {$249 / $289 after 4/1/19}

Prepare. Pitch. Publish. #preppitchpub

You want agents. We’ve got agents.

Taxes for Writers | MWW Ongoing course

Are you earning money from your writing? Do you need help with tax deductions and record keeping?

If you answered YES, then this MWW Ongoing course is for you!

Author and CPA Carol Topp claims she can explain federal income tax, self-employment tax and sales tax in clear English. Let’s hear her try! She will explain tax deductions and record keeping tips to make your life easier. This course is not as dull as it sounds and loaded with examples!
In this course you will learn:
  • Know what tax forms you (or your tax preparer need to file)
  • Have the IRS tax forms explained in plain English
  • See a sample tax return for an author
  • Know what tax deductions are typical for writers
  • Tax tips from a CPA and author
  • Understand what forms you need to send to subcontractors
  • Know when you need to charge sales tax and when you don’t!
  • Be alert to IRS red flags that could trigger and audit

This course is for writers who are earning money from their writing or have expenses related to writing and wonder what they can deduct on their tax return. This is professional advice from a CPA and author at a great rate!

Format: Two instructional videos (about 45 minutes each) that you can watch on your own time, at your own convenience. Once you have registered, the entire course will be available to you until April 15, 2019, to access at any time you wish. Plus, downloadable pdfs of handouts of the PowerPoint slides.

Register Today! Click HERE to register.
Cost: $65
Students will have instant access to the videos (until April 15, 2019) once they register, as well as to a private Facebook group (MWW + Taxes for Writers) or Facebook live session to ask questions of the presenter.

About the Instructor

Carol Topp, CPA is an author and Certified Public Accountant. Carol’s fourteen books have been both self-published and traditionally published. She advises writers on starting a business and running it successfully. She is the author of Business Tips and Taxes for Writers and contributing author to Writers Market and the Writer’s Digest Guide to Indie Publishing. Her website is TaxesForWriters.com

New online course! Show Not Tell with Shirley Jump

MWW Ongoing

Midwest Writers just experienced a successful Super Mini-conference, July 27-28, and while we’re planning our next events, we’re also continuing our mission to help writers improve their writing with our online courses.

MWW Ongoing is a series of courses taught by award-winning writing instructors, and everything happens online. From the convenience of your computer, on your own time schedule, you can participate in classes to take your writing to the next level.

SHOW NOT TELL is our latest MWW Ongoing course taught by one of our popular instructors, New York Times bestselling author Shirley Jump. It’s a two-week course with lessons, strategies, and exercises to strengthen and provoke emotion in your writing. Cost: $75.00 — course begins August 20!

SHOW NOT TELL is for people who are struggling to make their writing come alive with powerful characters, emotional storylines and memorable reads. If you are struggling to get readers to connect with your book, this course will help. This course will cover the difference between show and tell, how to find the telling in your manuscript, and the best ways to create more emotion on the page. Showing brings words to life and creates living, breathing characters.

Shirley will cover the basics of show not tell, including the key words to watch for, and the reasons for telling instead of showing in a manuscript. She will talk about pacing and backstory as well, because both are impacted by show not tell, and are integral to a well written book. By the end of this course, you will have the tools you need to create more powerful scenes and more evocative characters.

What This Course Specifically Teaches

  • Basics of show not tell
  • Determining where the telling is in your book
  • Changing telling to Showing
  • Creating more powerful characters and adding more emotion to key scenes

The course is broken down into two units. Each unit is accompanied by several handouts that build on the one before. You can start using the information immediately for your current work. Questions will be answered within the private Facebook group and in one Facebook live chat.

UNIT ONE: Available Monday, August 20th

Unit One will be about getting the basics down. We will start with discussing the difference between show not tell, how to find the sections of your work that are telling, and the basics of converting telling to showing. Students will be asked to look at their own work and revise to show more (feedback will be given in the private Facebook group).

  • Show Not Tell
  • Devil is in the Details
  • Passive vs Active
  • Enriching Your Descriptions
  • Scene Analysis

UNIT TWO: Available Monday, August 27th

Unit Two will take show not tell to a deeper level. We will discuss when to tell instead of show, how show not tell relates to backstory and pacing, and how a few key words can make a huge difference in a scene. Students will again look at their own work and revise to show more, with feedback in the private Facebook group.

  • Tension vs Conflict
  • Construct a More Powerful Scene
  • Scene Analysis
  • Before and After Backstory

And Join the community in the Facebook Group!

About the Instructor

When she’s not writing books, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shirley Jump competes in triathlons, mostly because all that training lets her justify mid-day naps and a second slice of chocolate cake. She’s published more than 60 books in 24 languages, although she’s too geographically challenged to find any of those countries on a map. Visit her website at www.ShirleyJump.com for author news and a booklist, and follow her on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/shirleyjump.author for giveaways and deep discussions about important things like chocolate and shoes.

REGISTER HERE!

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.

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

Meet Mini-conference faculty Lou Harry!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Come meet Lou!

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

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

To review the faculty bios, read here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come meet Brent!

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

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