Angela Jackson-Brown is an award-winning writer, poet and playwright who teaches Creative Writing and English at Ball State University in Muncie, IN. She is a graduate of Troy University, Auburn University and the Spalding low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing. She has published her short fiction, Creative Nonfiction, and poetry in journals like The Louisville Journal and the Appalachian Review. She is author of Drinking From a Bitter Cup (WiDo Publishing, 2014), House Repairs (Negative Capability Press, 2018), and her latest novel, When Stars Rain Down, which will be published by Thomas Nelson, an imprint of HarperCollins, in the spring of 2021.
MWW board member and publicity chair, Leah Lederman, interviewed Angela about her writing and what she will present at MWW21.
MWW: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar?
AJB: A worker bee. I am a productive writer because I am a hardworking writer who, much like the worker bee, realizes being a writer isn’t, most times, a very glamourous job.
MWW: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
AJB: The first time I learned that language had power was when I wrote my first story. I saw the impact it had on the people I shared it with, especially my daddy. I realized then that storytellers have the ability to transport other people to another place, even if only for a short period of time.
MWW: What’s your favorite takeaway from the session you’ll be teaching?
AJB: Improving our writing skills can be taught. There are some aspects of writing that are innate and either the person has “It” or they don’t BUT so much of writing can be learned if we are willing and open vessels. THAT is the one thing I hope everyone walks away believing. They can improve their writing skills. They just have to be willing to put in the hours/days/weeks/months/years needed to elevate their skill set.
MWW: Why do you think this is important for writers to consider in their own work?
AJB: Writers need to know that writing is not just this mystical act that depends on some mysterious muse. Writing is back-breaking, sweat-inducing work. Every day, to be successful at being writers, we have to show up and put in the effort it takes to take our work to the next level. It is not for the faint of heart.
MWW: How do you channel real life experiences in your fiction — or do you?
AJB: I primarily write historical fiction, so I am constantly weaving in the historical past into my fictional worlds. I can’t imagine writing without paying attention to what was happening when my novels are set. How do I write about politics in 1948 without mentioning Truman, Civil Rights and the Dixiecrats? Historical details are the bread and butter of any story, regardless of when it is set.
MWW: I’ve read Drinking from a Bitter Cup and can’t wait for When Stars Rain Down. In your writing, what are some themes that arise again and again?
AJB: Family relationships and spirituality almost always show up in my work. If a writer knows the intricacies of their characters’ relationships with other characters, then they have the tools to write a complex plot. Spirituality is something all of my characters grapple with because they, like us, are trying to figure out how they got here and what their purpose in life is going to be.
MWW: Do you deal with them differently in your separate works?
AJB: The outcomes are different but the strategies are the same in most of my work.
Why You Need to Sign Up for Jane Friedman’s MWW One-Day, March 27, 2021
I met Ms. Friedman in person at a workshop held by the Indiana Writer’s Center at Marian University in 2019.
Now, I’ve come across celebrities. I once passed Steve Harvey at the Detroit Metro Airport baggage claim at 2 am. But at that moment in the college hallway, I understood the feeling people talk about when they describe meeting a major influence in their life.
(She might remember me as the cartoonish character wagging my tongue while she was trying to get her mojo in place before class. I took my seat, grateful I could stop my mouth-rattling and if she was too, she never let on.)
That workshop was “Getting Your Work Published” and it marked a turning point in my career as a writer. At that time, I’d had a short story collection published by small press and while I sensed that not all of my works-in-progress were best suited for the same trajectory, I didn’t know how to make an informed choice.
The slides were set and the microphone checked, Jane cleared her throat and said something like, “I’m about to school y’all.”
Okay, she didn’t say that. Memory is a funny thing. That’s what I remember, though. Because school me she did.
The presentation was chock full of sample pitches and bios, cover images, charts and graphs, do’s and don’ts, and insider tips. Ms. Friedman took questions from the class like she was rolling a basketball over her shoulders. Honestly, I’d never seen someone go Harlem Globe-trotters while discussing the publishing industry, but that’s the closest comparison I can make.
I sat in the car for a good ten minutes afterwards, a tuning fork still sounding from the information I’d ingested. Rarely outside of grad school had I encountered so much information so densely packed and tightly organized. Ms. Friedman’s talk covered everything from agents, queries, proposals, and comp titles, to book covers, editors, formatting, and distribution. Plus hybrid publishing!
I was familiar with or had working definitions of a lot of the material when I walked in (helped in no small part by www.janefriedman.com), but for so long I’d been drowning in these concepts—especially the varied advice I received about them. By the time I walked out of that room, Jane had given me a life vest, an inflatable raft, an oar, and a first-aid kit.
Naturally, I signed up for her free newsletter, “Electric Speed” (recently I added “The Hot Sheet”) and when 2020 came around, her consistent online course offerings were indispensable to my burgeoning author career. Ms. Friedman’s classes illuminated the nuts and bolts of the writing life: I learned about self-publishing, blogging strategies, working on my author website and managing my author platform. On top of that, top-notch guest lecturers like Allison Williams and Dinty Moore offered valuable insights into the process of memoir.
I’d like to say I’m Jane Friedman’s number one fan but there’s too many contenders and I try not to start fights (I’m barely five feet tall and out of shape). Instead of giving *myself* a title, I’ll simply say that Jane Friedman is a national treasure for writers, a strong supporter of Midwest Writers, and you should sign up for everything she’s putting out there. It will change the trajectory of your author career.
“When it’s time to publish your book,” Jane says, “remember that there is no such thing as a career-ending decision. While I want everyone to feel confident and informed about the publishing options available to them, the honest truth is that many writers end up in a publishing situation that isn’t quite what they imagined, or working with a publisher they’d never before considered. And sometimes the publisher (or agent) isn’t as all powerful or impressive as you once imagined! At some point in the process, you come to realize that much of your success rests on you and the qualities of the work you’ve been developing for years. This is ultimately for the best: you will partner with publishers or services as it suits you, and most writers will modify their path for each and every project. Simply put: You don’t rely on publishers for success.”
In this masterclass with publishing industry expert Jane Friedman, you’ll learn not just the foundational principles of getting a book published, but gain up-to-date insight into the changing landscape of the publishing industry, and how you can navigate your own path toward success. You’ll discover what it takes to capture the attention of a New York publisher or literary agent (whether you write fiction or nonfiction) and how to determine if self-publishing, hybrid, or traditional publishing is the most appropriate path for your next project. Can’t attend the sessions live? No problem. MWW is offering archival video access for three months to ALL registered attendees.
https://www.midwestwriters.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Jane-friedman-FB-banner-scaled.jpg9742560Midwest Writershttp://www.midwestwriters.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/mww-logo.pngMidwest Writers2021-03-17 13:51:152021-03-17 13:51:15My First Jane Friedman Course
Amy is one of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, November 18-21.
Amy Stapp received her BA from Samford University and MA from Georgia State University before beginning her publishing career at Macmillan, where she was an editor for seven years and had the privilege of working with numerous New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors. Amy joined Wolfson Literary in December 2018 and continues to actively build her list, with interest in women’s fiction, mystery, suspense, upmarket book club fiction, historical fiction, young adult, and select nonfiction. She is particularly drawn to a high concept hook, well-paced prose, immersive settings, and smart, multidimensional characters. As an editorial agent, she enjoys working hand-in-hand with authors to take their work to the next level. Find her online at wolfsonliterary.com.
Check out Amy’s Wish List!
Fiction: twisty, intelligent suspense, upmarket book club fiction, women’s fiction that explores friendships and multigenerational ties, light magical realism
Historical Fiction from a new perspective
Young Adult Fiction: fast-paced, “unputdownable” story with a mature voice in a variety of genres—romance, mystery, historical, and unique coming-of-age stories
Always looking for stories from underrepresented voices and in diverse settings
MWW agent assistant Kat Higgs-Coulthard interviewed Amy about how her experience as a former editor informs her process as an agent. Kat’s writing has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Jack & Jill, Cleaver, and Women on Writing. In her role as Director of Michiana Writers’ Center in South Bend, Indiana, Kat loves working with young writers through summer camps and writing conferences.
MWW: How does your experience as a former editor at Macmillan inform your work as an agent?
AS: That’s really what sets me apart from other agents. It is incredibly helpful for my clients to work with someone who is already familiar with what the next steps are in terms of the marketing, publicity, and what to expect from a publishing house.
I just have an editorial eye, so people who work with me tend to be people who are already very talented but want to take their work to the next level. I know exactly how hard it is to get something through an acquisition board. Being aware of that behind-the-scenes process allows me to set my authors up for long-term success.
MWW: You represent multiple genres. How do you feel about authors who write across genres or age categories, like for instance a YA novelist who also writes middle grade?
AS: It’s always good to diversify, but there are different schools of thought. Some people will tell you it’s difficult to build a following or to grow your readership if you are constantly jumping around, but that tends to be more once you already have a contract with a house. The publisher will have a specific strategy for trying to build your brand and grow your audience.
But it’s not at all uncommon for authors to write in multiple genres over the years. I will always tell a writer to write the story of your heart even if the story of your heart right now is some outlandish project that you know you can’t sell. Some writers call it your “through book.” You have to write your way through it before you can tackle the one that will become a bestseller. Try not to be so focused on writing something just because you think it will sell, when really you have a whole different project on your mind. When your heart isn’t in it, it shows in your writing. You have to write what’s on your heart.
MWW: What should writers do when their pitch results in a pass from the agent?
AS: I talk about this in Queries Do’s and Don’ts (Thurs., Nov. 19, 11am ET), so you should come to my session [laughs]. For a query rejection, the only thing you can do is keep writing the next book, keep perfecting your craft. For one-on-one pitches at conferences like this, I think one of my biggest pet peeves is when a writer will try to convince me why I’m wrong about their manuscript. That’s not a valuable use of either of our time. If I say this story isn’t the right fit for me, that doesn’t mean the conversation needs to end. How often are you sitting across from an agent? Make use of your time with me to ask me questions about publishing, to ask questions about your comps or how to improve your pitch, anything at all. I come to conferences to be helpful and useful to you in any way I can.
MWW: What should writers do when their pitch results in a request for pages?
AS: The number one mistake I see people make is submitting before they’re really ready. Hopefully you’ve already workshopped it with critique partners and through your writers’ circle. Just because someone at a conference says ‘this sounds like a great pitch, I’d love to see more,’ does not mean you have to send it tomorrow. It’s fine to take a few weeks, even a few months, so you can take the time to make your manuscript the best it can possibly be before sending it to an agent. There is no rush. Play the long game.
MWW: With all the reading you do for work, how do you find time to read for pleasure?
AS: I have a library app on my phone and I get audio books from the library. Any time I’m washing dishes, walking the dog, doing laundry, or whatever it is, I am constantly listening to the new bestseller to keep up-to-date on what’s popular in the genres I’m trying to sell at the moment. (And let me tell you, the best authors are doing that as well. If you’re not current on what’s selling in your genre, you’re probably not ready to start querying agents yet.) The book on my nightstand right now is And Now She’s Gone. It’s a thriller by Rachel Howzell Hall. She’s incredible; everyone should go buy her book. Next up on my TBR pile is Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. My tastes are pretty varied, from commercial bookclub favorites to upmarket women’s fiction, from lighthearted romcoms to dark and twisty thrillers, and everything in between.
Nonfiction: lifestyle, health, wellness, self-help, spiritualism, and true crime.
Jolene Haley joined the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency in 2020 and has been in the publishing industry since 2012. She has worked for literary agencies and publishers like The Bent Agency, Corvisiero Literary Agency, Entangled Publishing, and Swoon Romance, and has an extensive background in marketing. Her well-rounded experience provides a unique perspective and a solid foundation to support authors as they build their careers.
Jolene represents middle grade, young adult, and adult fiction. She is drawn to original concepts, compelling characters, and stories with plot twists that keep her guessing. In all genres, she welcomes diverse stories and characters that reflect the world we live in. She graduated with accolades from Cal State Fullerton with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Composition. She runs a global horror writer’s resource site The Midnight Society and is a member of ALA, HWA, and SCBWI. Follow Jolene on Twitter or Instagram.
MWW agent assistant Amanda Byk interviewed Jolene about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest. Amanda graduated from Ball State University with a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing. She is a copywriter for Dealer Inspire out of Naperville, IL. She enjoys writing historical fiction and nonfiction and hopes to return to school for a Masters in Fiction.
MWW: How did you become an agent?
JH: I always knew I wanted to work with books. I joined the publishing industry in 2012, while earning my English degree. I started as an assistant who worked across teams at Entangled Publishing. This experience led me to taking on new roles in marketing, editing, and publicity teams at different publishers. Working for publishers was fantastic, but I was drawn to agenting.
I joined The Bent Agency as an intern and worked my way up at agencies until I became an agent. In 2020, I joined my dream agency, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, as a literary agent. Working alongside fantastic agents like Kevan, Jill, Patricia, Shannon, and Deborah is a dream. I feel grateful to champion amazing authors and that my job is to help bring stories into the world!
MWW: What are a few tips you would give to writers? What are some tips you have for writers on approaching agents?
JH: My best tips for querying writers are simple.
Polish your book. Send your work when it’s done and not a moment sooner. You want the agent to see your best work when you query. Research book length, nail down your genre, write a polished query, and ensure that your manuscript is free of typos and grammar issues. There are fabulous free resources online to guide first time queriers, and by submitting polished work, you’re automatically setting yourself apart from other submissions and giving yourself a competitive edge.
Follow submission rules. Most agencies and agents share their submission guidelines. Please follow them, as they are the best way to ensure that your query is seen, considered, and responded to.
Don’t give up! Querying can feel hard. Putting yourself out there can be scary. But the payoff is worth it when you find the perfect agent for you and your work. Every query pass is one step closer to your future offer of representation.
MWW: What kind of manuscript do you favor/what kind do you hate getting?
JH: On my website, visitors can find submission guidelines and my wish list. I do this to help writers decide if I am a good fit for their work and to share more about my reading preferences. I currently accept middle grade, young adult, and adult manuscripts. In these age categories, I’m seeking a wide variety of genres, but my current favorites are horror, thrillers, mysteries, and romance.
There is not a type of manuscript that I hate to receive, however my wish list shares the type of work that I am not a great fit for, such as high fantasy, military thrillers, and pandemic stories. No matter what, I read every query and consider each submission that I receive.
MWW: What questions should new authors ask during the first meeting with the literary agent?
JH: I firmly believe that when meeting with an offering literary agent, authors should ask anything that they want to know about the agency, the agent, their agenting style, and their vision for the manuscript. Don’t be shy! For example, a great question for an agent is to describe their agenting style. If you feel like it’s important to have an editorial agent, and the agent shares that they are not editorial, you may not be a good match.
Here are four great questions that might be helpful to know before you make your decision:
How does the agent communicate with their authors?
Will you be working with the agent directly or with another agent/assistant?
What types of changes do you think need to be made for your book? What is their editorial vision?
MWW: At the Agent Fest, you have a presentation on Building Your Author Platform to Elevate Your Career. How important would you say an online presence is and why?
JH: In my opinion, it is critical for authors to have an online presence. When I say that, I don’t mean that you have to make 20 social media accounts and spend all day posting instead of writing.
What I mean is, one of the most effective ways an author can have an effective online presence is through a website. Readers, editors, and agents need a place that they can go to learn more about you. Visitors should be able to find your agent information, a media kit (author photo and biography, at least), and book information with buy links. Of course, there are additional ways to optimize your presence online, but a website is a great place to start.
Latoya is one of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, November 18-21.
Latoya C. Smith started her editorial career as an administrative assistant to New York Times bestselling author, Teri Woods at Teri Woods Publishing while pursuing her Bachelor’s degree at Temple University. She graduated Cum Laude from Temple in August of 2005. She then attained a full-time position at Kensington Publishing in March of 2006. In October 2006, Latoya joined Grand Central Publishing, an imprint at Hachette Book Group. For the span of her eight years there, Latoya acquired a variety of titles from hardcover fiction and nonfiction, to digital romance and erotica. She was featured in Publishers Weekly, Forbes and USA Today, as well as on various author, book conference, and book blogger websites. In early 2014, she appeared on CSpan2 where she contributed to a panel discussing the state of book publishing. From August 2014 to February 2016, Latoya was Executive Editor at Samhain Publishing where she acquired short and long-form romance and erotic fiction. She is the winner of the 2012 RWA Golden Apple for Editor of the Year, 2017 Golden Apple for Agent of the Year, and the 2017 Literary Jewels Award for Editor of the Year. Latoya provides editorial services and literary representation through her company, LCS Literary Services.
MWW agent assistant Allen Warren interviewed Latoya about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest. Allen is an English Studies major at Ball State University. He is also managing editor for the Digital Literature Review and assistant fiction editor & event/writing series coordinator for Ball State’s literary magazine The Broken Plate.
MWW: What got you interested in becoming a literary agent?
LS: I worked as an acquisitions editor for over 10 years and was laid off from my job. Based on my contacts, a really good friend thought I’d make a great agent. So, I joined her agency in 2016. I later began agenting for my own company in 2018.
MWW: Who have been some of your more recent clients, and how did you promote them?
LS: Kimberly L. Jones, Kondwani Fidel, Kristin Vayden and LaQuette to name a few. In regards to promotion, I speak about my clients whenever I can at whatever stage of the process they are in. For example, if a client is in early development, I’ll bring up their concepts as I speak to editors to try and garner early interest. Once sold, I am actively promoting them and their projects on my social media and at conferences and events, by spreading the word and offering my help and support however I can.
MWW: What are the number-one things you recommend attendees pitching ideas to do and NOT to do?
LS: Be passionate, confident and practice so that you won’t feel as nervous because you know your stuff. However, try not to waste your time making light conversation. You’ll lose valuable time like that. Instead, begin with your greeting and move right into your pitch so that you can leave room for questions at the end.
MWW: What makes a manuscript stand out to you? What will make it sink?
LS: Strong first pages, with a clear sense of who these characters are and why I should care about them. If the project is riddled with typos, confusing, or just uninteresting, I will stop reading.
MWW: Finally, what have you been reading during quarantine?
LS: Romance and women’s fiction along with some thrillers.
Also on Latoya’s schedule for Agent Fest Online:
First Page Read – Love It or Leave It, “Okay, Stop” – with Latoya Smith, Alice Speilburg, Shannon Kelly. This is a chance to get your first page read (anonymously — no bylines given) with our attending agents/editors commenting on what was liked or not liked about the submission. Get expert feedback on your incredibly important first lines and know if your writing has what it needs to keep readers’ attention.
Working With An Agent: Writers will learn the tools needed to successfully partner with the right agent. This includes: Preparing Your Written and Verbal Pitch. Finding the Right Agent. What Your Agent Should Bring to the Table. How You Should Use Your Agent. Building Your Platform. When to Part Ways With Your Agent.
You’ve Got A Book Deal, Now What?: Writers will learn what happens after they’ve been offered a deal (per traditional publisher standards). This includes: Contract Negotiation Points. Welcome Materials from Your Publisher. The Editorial Process. Importance of Cover Art and Cover Copy. Publicity and Marketing Strategies. Sales and Distribution. Useful Tips.
Agents/Author Conversation: How an agent works with an author — Agents Cherry Weiner and Latoya Smith and author Larry D. Sweazy
http://www.midwestwriters.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/mww-logo.png00Midwest Writershttp://www.midwestwriters.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/mww-logo.pngMidwest Writers2020-10-26 16:36:422020-10-26 16:36:42Pitch fiction & nonfiction to Latoya Smith at Agent Fest Online!
Midwest Writers Workshop presents another installment of our “Conversation with an Author” series. MWW board member Lylanne Musselman talked with MWW alum Lara Ehrlich about her newly released book, her writing life and her MWW experience.
Lara Ehrlich’s work been published in literary magazines, including F(r)iction, Hunger Mountain, and StoryQuarterly, and has been recognized with many awards and fellowships; most recently, Animal Wife received Red Hen Press’s Fiction Award, judged by New York Times-bestselling author, Ann Hood, who called the collection “sensual and intelligent, with gorgeous prose.” Animal Wife, which launched in Sept 2020, has been praised as “remarkable” by Lit Hub, who said “the collection is a standout in a season full of amazing new releases.” Lara lives in Connecticut with her husband and daughter.
Lara Ehrlich is also a former Midwest Writers Workshop Retreat Fellow. Here’s Lylanne’s interview with Lara:
MWW: Tell me a little about your new book, Animal Wife – how did it come about? Are the stories in it what you normally write?
LE: Animal Wife is a collection of stories about women’s transformations, from girls into wives, mothers, and monsters. Winner of the Red Hen Press Fiction Award, judged by Ann Hood, Animal Wife was on shelves September 8, 2020. It’s available now at RedHen.org, Bookshop.org, and Amazon.com.
Animal Wife originated with the titular story in the collection, about a girl who undertakes a quest for the mother who abandoned her. I started this story as a novel and after writing hundreds of pages, realized it was actually meant to be a short story! This is where I rediscovered my love of writing short stories, how time and emotion can be compressed into a tight space that exerts pressure on every sentence. I love the intensity of short stories, and how they can sustain an off-kilter voice or a wild conceit that might sag in a longer piece.
The next few stories are also about girls and young women, tapping into the urgency and uneasiness of puberty. As I began writing toward a collection, the stories began to change, to move away from girls and toward mothers. During this time, I was questioning whether I wanted to have a family. I was terrified of the self-abdication that I believed motherhood necessitated. I was going to create Important Work, and I couldn’t afford the distraction. I believed that the right way to be a mother was to devote all of myself to my child, while the right way to be a writer was to toil in isolation, unfettered by the needs of others.
I wrote the majority of the stories in Animal Wife while agonizing over this decision, then while pregnant, so those stories are often worst-case scenarios, nightmares, terrors about motherhood. I wrote the last few stories during those first few months of motherhood that I can barely remember because they were so intensely exhausting. Writing has become not only a calling and a career, but my way of keeping hold of myself and avoiding the self-abdication I’d so feared.
Throughout Animal Wife, readers will be able to see my preoccupations and priorities shifting—and with them, my voice. Now, I could no longer write the stories that open this collection.
MWW: What writers do you feel have influenced you?
LE: In elementary school, my obsession with Edgar Allen Poe inspired me to write stories about crazy murderers. Ray Bradbury sparked a science fiction period. In college, I read James Joyce, Nabokov, and Faulkner, and became longwinded. In graduate school, Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, and Oscar Wilde injected some whimsy into my longwinded prose.
One thing all of these writers have in common: they’re men. And I was writing about men. Writing about women seemed dangerous somehow, too autobiographical. Reading other women was revelatory. When I began writing about women, writing from that place of danger, my stories changed. They became spare and, although they no longer feature murderous crazy people, more daring.
The writers who inspire me now are risk-taking women who cross boundaries, tackle uncomfortable themes, plunge into dark places. Women like Angela Carter, Kelly Link, Katherine Dunn, Elena Ferrante, Maggie Nelson, Karen Russell, Kristen Arnett, Aimee Bender…I could go on!
MWW: Do you have any writing rituals?
LE: I have a 4-year-old daughter and work full time as the director of marketing for the International Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven, CT. Before I had a child, I had writing rituals: I’d write every day before work and on my lunch break—but those sacred times have been filled with other responsibilities, and I struggle to find time for sustained work. I force writing into the cracks of my schedule wherever I can.
This is more of a practical habit than a ritual, but I have a long commute and often use the time to work on my novel by dictating to myself using my phone’s recording app (In fact, I’m dictating this right now!). I upload the recording to the (free) Otter transcription app, which does a passable job of transcribing my monologue. While my toddler is eating dinner, I clean up the transcription and end up with 3,000 words on a good day. Those 3,000 words need a ton of work, but starting from there instead of with a blank page has been really helpful for my productivity. It’s the only way I was able to draft my novel-in-progress.
MWW: You are an MWW Alum. How did you originally find the workshop? How often did you attend?
LE: The 2009 Workshop was my first conference! I originally found the workshop through a scholarship promoted in Poets & Writers magazine. A year later, I attended the Midwest Writers Workshop Fellows Retreat, which was my first retreat.
MWW: How did attending MWW affect your career?
LE: I’ve wanted to write a book since fourth grade, when I composed a fantasy epic (in an etched leather journal) that was really just a description of the movie Willow. I went on to fill dozens of notebooks with stories and bits of novels and scenes. Although publishing a book was my ultimate goal, completing and selling a manuscript seemed utterly mysterious and out of reach. I attended MWW with about 20 pages of a novel and zero knowledge of the publishing industry, open to learning everything I could.
I was nowhere near ready to query agents yet, but I took advantage of a pitch session with an agent who encouraged me to stick with my novel, gave me some pointers on the query letter I’d drafted, and invited me to send her the book when I was ready. That one actionable goal—send this person my book—helped me begin to demystify the publishing process and break it down into other actionable steps that seemed attainable when tackled one at a time.
During that same conference, I clicked with two other Chicago writers who were working on their first novels, and we formed a critique group. We continued to meet for years, supporting one another through drafting and revising our work, querying agents, and eventual publication.
MWW is equally devoted to helping writers develop their craft, and I found many of those sessions to be valuable—but at that moment in my fledgling career, MWW helped me to understand the business side of writing. That is what I needed to be able to take my writing seriously not just as a craft, but as a career.
MWW: Thinking about the sessions you attended, what is one session that really stands out to you (more if you want to mention them)?
LE: Among the many excellent programs that I attended on writing vivid settings, querying agents, and developing intriguing characters, the session that stands out to me most was about tax preparation. This, from someone who struggled so mightily to learn the difference between addition and subtraction that when I finally got it down, my first-grade teacher sent home a congratulatory note.
Until MWW, I hadn’t realized that I could deduct the writing expenses I was racking up—from the MWW conference fee, to a portion of my rent, to my office supplies. As much as I still detest math, tracking my writing expenses made the business side of my career more tangible; while I couldn’t quantify my effort, I could quantify my monetary investment in my writing, which elevated what I was doing from amorphous labor to real work.
MWW: If you were ever to lead a session at MWW (and we hope you will!), what might be something you’d like to instruct writers on?
LE: At this moment in my life and career, I’m particularly interested in working with other parent-writers (specifically, but not limited to, mothers) to prioritize their writing. I’m forever asking other parent-writers how they manage to create art while cleaning up after little people, imagining that there must be a secret I just haven’t discovered yet. How does everyone else seem to have their lives together, to be producing exceptional work, to have well-adjusted children? Every parent-writer I’ve asked has laughed and said, “My life is a shit show.” (Often literally. So. Much. Poop.) I’d like to lead a session for other writers who struggle with this balancing act to see if we can come up with strategies together.
MWW: Can you share what you’re working on now?
LE: The stories in Animal Wife are about girls and women seeking liberation from family responsibilities and societal expectations; my novel-in-progress is a more in-depth exploration of these themes, framed by a loose retelling of “The Little Mermaid.” A restless siren-turned-human who takes over a failing mermaid burlesque. She establishes a kingdom in the likeness of her lost world and lives as a siren, performing in a tank at the edge of the sea. At its heart, the book is about the dark underbelly of fantasy, the need for escape and transformation, which in the end is disappointing—and often destructive.
A fun note: As part of my research, I attended the Sirens of the Deep Mermaid Camp at Weeki Wachee State Park in Weeki Wachee, Florida, where women have performed as mermaids since 1947. During the two-day camp, my fellow campers and I were trained by mermaids—called Legendary Sirens—who had performed at Weeki Wachee in its golden age. My essay about Siren Camp is forthcoming in Lit Hub.
MWW: What is some advice you would give to novice attendees, or even to those who are wanting to attend…but feel they’re not ready?
LE: As I mentioned before, I was a total novice when I attended my first MWW conference. I was so overwhelmed when I arrived that I bought a box of cereal and a bottle of wine at Walmart and hid in my hotel room watching a truly terrible Jennifer Love Hewitt movie on cable. When I finally made it to the conference center, I was relieved to find that the staff and instructors were supportive and welcoming—and the other writers were as overwhelmed as I was! From there, MWW was a transformative experience, so I would advise novice writers just to go and be open to feeling overwhelmed. You’ll never really feel ready, so you might as well just go for it.
Sarah Domet is the author of The Guineveres, originally released from Flatiron Books/Macmillan in October 2016. It received starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal along with praise from O Magazine, People, Elle, Real Simple, Harper’s Bazaar, and The New York Times Book Review. Southern Living voted it one of the Best Books of 2016 by Southern Authors and Bustle included it on their list of 2016’s best debut novels. Sarah is also the author of 90 Days to Your Novel, and her short fiction and nonfiction have been published and anthologized in numerous places. Sarah holds a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing from The University of Cincinnati, and she currently teaches in the creative writing program at Ball State University.
Sarah’s MWW20 sessions include:
90 Days to Your Novel Challenge – A line has been drawn in the sand. Come prepared to cross it and to accept the 90 Days to Your Novel challenge. This session will help you arm yourself with a deadline, some good writing habits, and an outline in order to imagine, structure, and complete a draft of a novel in 90 days.
You Finished Your Manuscript, Now What? – Completing your manuscript is only half of your job as a novelist. This session will address the necessary next steps toward publishing and promoting your work.
Character + Yearning = Plot – This session will explore how understanding your character–and your character’s yearning–serves as the crucial foundation for the plot of your novel.
Panel: Outliner or Pantser? [Tracy Clark, Sarah Domet, Sarah Aronson, Moderator: Angela Jackson-Brown]
Sarah Domet – MWW20
Angela Jackson-Brown, Midwest Writers Workshop board member, interviewed Sarah for this faculty Q&A.
MWW: Often times writers have a “do as I say, not as I do” approach to writing. What is some advice that you give to your students, that you wish you did more of in your own writing?
SD: I always tell students to let go of perfectionism in the first draft of anything–just write and have fun with it. Enjoy the process. Revel in the pure joy of language. Follow the energy of the story to unexpected places. Whatever you do: keep writing. The sentences and pages will add up. I do feel I could follow this advice a bit more. On occasion, I find myself reworking the same paragraph/page/scene over and over again, and usually this is a sign that I’m stuck. I’m a big believer in the idea that the first draft of anything is simply a process of trying to figure out how to tell a story.
MWW: In your novel The Guineveres, you have four characters who share the same name. How easy or difficult was it developing their individual voices? What are the techniques/strategies you used to make sure each character resonated off the page?
SD: Voice is everything in fiction. I always tell my students that once you find your voice, you find your story. Part of narrative voice is discovering who is telling the story, of course. But perhaps equally important is figuring out who the imagined listener of your story might be. In The Guineveres, the turning point for me was figuring out just who was listening. Why were these girls telling this story in the first place? In the end, the answer surprised me!
In general, I find it useful for writers to think about this question: Why do I want to tell this story? If you can answer this question clearly, then you can often tap into your characters–and their motives–in more authentic ways.
MWW: What are the main takeaways you want conference attendees to walk away with after taking your workshop?
SD: I hope attendees walk away with confidence in their voices and with concrete plans for finishing, revising, or submitting their work.
[Support Midwest Writers Workshop by purchasing MWW20 authors’ books with Amazon Smile! Click here.]
Join Sarah and the MWW Community to help you move forward with your stories! Check out this awesome schedule — and you get access to ALL 23 sessions!
http://www.midwestwriters.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/mww-logo.png00Midwest Writershttp://www.midwestwriters.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/mww-logo.pngMidwest Writers2020-07-17 14:37:592020-07-17 14:37:59Accept the 90 Days to Your Novel challenge – with Sarah Domet
Lori Rader-Day is the Edgar Award-nominated and Anthony and Mary Higgins Clark award-winning author of The Lucky One (February 2020), Under a Dark Sky, The Day I Died, Little Pretty Things, and The Black Hour. She lives in Chicago, where she is co-chair of the mystery readers’ conference Murder and Mayhem in Chicago and the national president of Sisters in Crime. [Support Midwest Writers Workshop by purchasing The Lucky One with Amazon Smile! Click here.]
Her short fiction has been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, TimeOut Chicago, Crab Orchard Review, Freight Stories, and in the anthologies Dia de los Muertos (Elektrik Milkbath Press), Unloaded 2 (Down and Out Books), and Murder-a-Go-Go’s (Down and Out Books). Bestselling author Jodi Picoult chose Lori’s story as the grand prize winner of Good Housekeeping‘s first fiction contest in 2010.
She studied journalism at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, twice–but eventually gave in to her dream and studied creative writing at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Now a resident of Chicago for almost twenty years, she has a favorite deep dish pizza (Lou Malnati’s) and is active in the area’s crime writing community.
Join “Happy Hour with Lori” – Monday (July 20), Wednesday (July 22), Friday (July 24) from 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm. as she discusses An Autopsy of a Novel.
Lori will walk you through her entire process for writing her novels. MWW20 session participants are encouraged–not required–to read The Lucky One prior the conference. Lori may need to talk about some spoilers to tell this story. Reading the book prior to the sessions will help a great deal not to have the twists ruined and to see how she worked them through.
Moderator Jama Kehoe Bigger will ask Lori – DAY ONE:
Where did the idea come from?
How did she create the plot?
At what point did she determine her characters?
Can we see her synopsis?
Since we hope most of the audience will have read the book, Lori will stop and ask for your feedback on decisions she made when writing the book. She can describe a problem that came up and ask you what you would have done to solve the problem. This will lead to lively dialogue! The purpose of this Happy Hour with Lori is to encourage writers to read books critically; to help workshop participants understand the steps involved in creating a publishable novel; to build community among MWW patrons; and promote literary citizenship by supporting an author and his/her work.
Moderator Jama will ask Lori – DAY TWO:
What did her outline look like?
How rough was her rough draft?
Talk about the editing process. How much input did her editor give her?
Who chose the title?
Moderator Jama will ask Lori – DAY THREE:
Did she have any control over the cover design?
What kinds of obstacles did she encounter along the way?
Did she have beta readers?
How many drafts did she do?
COUNTDOWN: ONE WEEK!
Join Lori and the MWW Community to help you move forward with your stories! Check out this awesome schedule — and you get access to ALL 23 sessions!
MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger caught up with Lori about her writing and her friendship with Midwest Writers Workshop.
Lori Rader Day – MWW20
MWW: Introduce yourself and tell us about your latest novel/creative project.
LRD: Hi, everyone! I’m Lori Rader-Day, a Midwest Writers Workshop alumna and award-winning crime fiction writer. I’m also the national president of Sisters in Crime, and you can consider that a commercial. My latest published book is The Lucky One, which is a psychological thriller about a woman who was kidnapped as a child (and returned safely) and is paying back her good fortune by helping find cold case missing persons–when she sees a face she recognizes on the site and it’s her kidnapper, never brought to justice. My latest project, not yet published, is a historical crime story set during World War II at Agatha Christie’s summer house, Greenway, in Devon, England.
MWW: We’re all creating new routines for ourselves in the midst of COVID. What does dedicating time to your craft right now look like for you?
LRD: To finish my recent revisions for that last project, I had to dedicate so much what we call “butt in chair” time that I might have injured myself. Who says this job isn’t a physical one? This was hours a day every day for most of the quarantine, which gave me something to focus on. Now that I’m done… well, let’s just say I might start writing my next book sooner than planned.
MWW: What role has Midwest Writers Workshop played in your personal path to publication?
LRD: Midwest Writers Workshop was the first writing conference I ever went to. I had no idea who I was, what kind of writer I wanted to be, but I had so much fun. When I went back the next time, I had a clearer idea–but I was wrong, because when I went to MWW’s fellow retreat (RIP) one year, I found out I was a crime fiction writer. I didn’t know, but the wise people at MWW made sure I left with a better idea of the story I was writing and what I would need to do to get it written. That book was published as my third novel in 2017, but the scene I wrote at the retreat is still in the book.
MWW: Why would you encourage writers–of any age or any experience level–to participate in Midwest Writers Workshop?
LRD: I send a lot of people to MWW because I think it’s a welcoming space with great teachers. I think any age of writer could find some fellow writers to hang out with, and any experience level will find some classes to fit their needs.
Lori’s waiting to meet you for Happy Hour!
http://www.midwestwriters.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/mww-logo.png00Midwest Writershttp://www.midwestwriters.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/mww-logo.pngMidwest Writers2020-07-15 13:23:062020-07-15 13:23:06Lori Rader-Day presents An Autopsy of a Novel – MWW20
She has received grants from the Indiana Arts Commission and the Sustainable Arts Foundation. Her stories, essays, and comics have appeared in The Believer, The Rumpus, Colorado Review, Passages North, Quarterly West, Booth, Notre Dame Review, The Common, and elsewhere. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati and teaches creative writing at Indiana University South Bend.
Kelcey Parker Ervick – MWW20
Kelcey’s MWW20 sessions include:
The “I” And The “Eye” In Nonfiction – How to strengthen your memoir by developing a persona and writing from a clear and consistent narrative perspective.
Searching and Researching: How To Write What You Don’t Know – How to take your memoir to the next level by making connections to history, politics, science, and culture.
Scene Magic – Kelcey will take you step by step through the writing of a compelling scene, then we will break those scenes down to identify the key parts so you can do it again (and again) on your own.
Lylanne Musselman, Midwest Writers Workshop board member, interviewed Kelcey for this week’s faculty Q&A.
MWW: Your award-winning book, The Bitter Life of Bozena Němcová, is billed as a biographical collage. How did that come about? Did you start writing with that idea in mind?
KPE: Bozena Němcová is a fairy tale writer whom I first encountered when I bought a book of her fairy tales for my daughter in the Prague Castle gift shop. I then learned that she is everywhere in Prague: there are statues and plaques and books and theater productions inspired by her. She is even on the Czech equivalent of the $20. (Imagine: a woman! on paper money!)
Long before it was a book idea, it was just me wondering: Who is this person? Why is she so important here? And why have I never heard of her before?
In my quest to find answers, I was so dazzled by everything I came across, and all my notes and quotes seemed to be in conversation with one another. So, I decided to tell the story of her life through actual snippets of her fairy tales and (amazingly frank) letters, gossip and recollections by her friends, radio interviews, and even things Kafka wrote about her in his letters. So, it became a “biographical collage.”
MWW: One of your sessions for Virtual MWW20 is “Searching and Researching: How to Write What You Don’t Know.” Writers are often told to only “write what you know” so what teaser can you give us about this session without giving too much away?
KPE: “Research” sounds so dull, but it isn’t! And it can add so much to your writing.
For example, I learned that one of the (rather disturbing) Frida Kahlo paintings that was originally owned by the historical characters in my book Liliane’s Balcony is now owned by Madonna, who uses it as a test litmus of friendship: “If somebody doesn’t like this painting,” she said, “then I know they can’t be my friend.”
Actually, that’s a terrible example because although I REALLY wanted to include that research tidbit, I couldn’t make it work in the story, so it’s not in the book!
Anyway, in this session I’ll provide strategies and fun examples of what I call “creative research” and how to decide what works with your story. Then I’ll offer a list of specific ways you can apply and incorporate your discoveries into your writing to add depth, detail, and humor.
MWW: What is your writing process like? Do you have any set rituals?
KPE: In 2018, I started making a drawing or painting each day, and I’m now in my third year of doing it, and it has transformed my writing life. I have a different, less precious, relationship to painting than writing, so it is a way for me to create more freely and have fun. I post most of my daily doodles on Instagram, where it’s fun to connect with other readers, writers, and artists. The whole experience helped me think differently about how I write and the stories I tell. Weirdly, making visual art has helped me find my “voice.” (The Rumpus published my visual reflections on daily art-making in 2018 and again in 2019.)
I also like having at least two different projects going at once. This way, if one project isn’t going well on a certain day, there’s always another to work on.
Another part of my process is stepping back from a piece and writing ABOUT it: Why am I writing it? What am I trying to say? How would I describe it to a stranger? Writing about and reflecting on these questions can help me move forward and provide focus when I go back to drafting.
MWW: Can you share any details on what you’re working on right now?
KPE: I’m working on a couple of different projects. Both are illustrated narratives. One is inspired by my great-grandmother’s life in Belfast, Ireland, working as a flax-spinner making tablecloths for the Titanic, which was being built in nearby shipyards, while dreaming of taking it to America.
The other is an illustrated memoir about being part of the first generation of Title IX, the law best known for creating equal opportunities for girls and women in sports. Like my literary idol, Vladimir Nabokov, I was a soccer goalie who wanted to be a writer. Unlike him, I was a girl. As I tell my story, I share stories of women athletes and writers who paved the way.
Join Kelcey and the MWW Community to help you move forward with your stories! Check out this awesome schedule — and you get access to ALL 23 sessions!
http://www.midwestwriters.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/mww-logo.png00Midwest Writershttp://www.midwestwriters.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/mww-logo.pngMidwest Writers2020-07-10 14:28:522020-07-10 14:29:14“Creative Research” and how to decide what works with your story
Sarah Aronson began writing for kids and teens when someone in an exercise class dared her to try. Since then, she has earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and published three stand alone novels: Head Case, Beyond Lucky, and Believe, a young MG series, The Wish List (Scholastic, 2017-2019) as well as the picture book biography, Just Like Rube Goldberg (Beach Lane Books), illustrated by Robert Neubecker.
When Sarah is not writing or reading (or cooking or riding her bike), she is talking to readers about creativity, writing, social action, and of course, sparkle power! She loves working with other writers in one of her classes at the amazing Highlights Foundation or Writers on the Net (www.writers.com). She currently serves as PAL coordinator for SCBWI-Illinois-and the SCBWI-IL initiative, Read Local. Warning: She overuses exclamation points. When she gets really excited, she makes funny faces and talks with her hands. She lives in Evanston, Illinois.
Sarah Aronson – MWW20
Sarah’s MWW20 sessions include:
Get to Know Your MG/YA Novel – Sarah will present her philosophy on the stages of revision, beginning with reimagination and how writers can discover their most authentic voices. She will look at the three I’s: Inspiration, Intuition, and Intellect. She will offer her best tips, as well as anecdotes for every stage of revision–from concept to word–that are guaranteed to amplify voice and give you the confidence you need to dig deep into your novel narratives. She will provide a hand-out filled with exercises you can use to help you embrace the power of play.
Panel: Outliner and Pantser? [Tracy Clark, Sarah Domet, Sarah Aronson, Moderator: Angela Jackson-Brown]
To Move Forward, Look Back – Explore backstory to reveal new opportunities for revision and reimagination. In this lecture, Sarah will look at three kinds of back story-your story’s origins, your characters’ past, and your emotions and reasons for writing-as tools for discovery and revision. Writing exercises included.
No More Subpar Subplots – Are you stuck in the muddy middle? Worried that your novel sags and drags? Or are you just plain lost? Perhaps you need to ramp up your subplots! In this seminar, Sarah will break down the art of writing compelling secondary characters and subplots, and help you increase the conflict and pace your novel. Come prepared to do some writing exercises and self-editing. Warning: this process may lead to the death (or creation) of brand new characters!
Gail Werner, long-time friend of Midwest Writers Workshop, caught up with Sarah recently and interviewed her for this Q&A.
MWW: Can you tell me more about your background and how you got into writing young adult fiction? Someone you knew dared you once to give it a try, right?
SA: Yes! Before I was a writer, I was a physical therapist, and for a long time, I taught a variety of exercise classes. After one spinning class, someone dared me to try writing. This didn’t completely surprise me. I had grown up loving and performing theater, and if you ask my mom and dad, I have always been a very persuasive story teller. So, I went home and found my children reading. (Rebecca was reading Esperanza, Rising, and Elliot was reading Bunnicula–for maybe the 100th time!) I don’t think I really thought much about it. I decided to try writing my favorite kinds of books–books for young readers–took out a pen and paper and started writing!
(I admit: I thought it would be easy. It wasn’t!)
After a few false starts, I met editor, Deborah Brodie, who liked my voice, but not much more! She suggested I get my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.
Since that experience, I’ve published nine books for kids with one more under contract. I love talking about craft–and working with writers to help them find their stories. Every day, I am inspired by so many writers in the children’s literature community. We have great readers and an important mission: to give every child the opportunity to see themselves in stories that end with hope.
MWW: One of your MWW20 sessions–“To Move Forward, Look Back”–is on the topic of exploring backstory as a writer’s tool for discovery and revision. What do you think are the key purposes of backstory, and why is backstory important to good character creation?
SA: Backstory is all about the WHY–and the why is the key to understanding our characters’ motivations and desires that propel the story forward. No story begins on page one. Our characters’ past experiences form their worldviews–and that helps us imagine what they will do when faced with obstacles. Our backstories are important, too! They help us understand what our stories mean to us–and also mine for personal details. It’s going to be a fun session!
MWW: What do you love most about writing for kids and teens? On the flip side, what is the greatest challenge?
SA: I love hanging out with kids! I love thinking like a kid. Childhood is a time of discovery and growth–both physical and emotional. My favorite books are the books I read when I was young. Getting into the mindset of a young person or teen is both rewarding and incredibly challenging! As an adult, I have a lot to share. But books aren’t teachers. Story is still the boss.
MWW: Can you share details about what you are working on right now?
SA: I just finished editing my upcoming picture book called Brand New Bubbe.
Other works in progress include a middle grade novel that begins when the protagonist gets kicked out of camp for reasons she will not disclose. Because her parents are busy, they send her to her grandmother’s house for two weeks. It’s a story of family and friendship–my first story that takes place in Chicago. I’m also working on a mystery as well as a picture book about the history of Paint By Numbers. I like working on more than one project at a time–they are all in different stages. My writing process is all about the power of play. It’s about exploring those three I’s: inspiration, intuition, and intellect!
Join Sarah and the MWW Community to help you move forward with your stories! Check out this awesome schedule — and you get access to ALL 23 sessions!
http://www.midwestwriters.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/mww-logo.png00Midwest Writershttp://www.midwestwriters.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/mww-logo.pngMidwest Writers2020-07-03 16:33:542020-07-03 16:33:54Sarah Aronson is all about about exploring those three I’s!
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