Get help to build authentic lives for your characters | MWW19

Come meet author Cole Lavalais …

Cole Lavalais’ work can be found in the Chicago Tribune, Obsidian, Apogee, Warpland, Tidal Basin Review, Aquarius Press, and others. Her novel, Summer of the Cicadas, was published by Willow Books in 2016. She is a fellow of the Kimbilio Center for Black Fiction, VONA and the Callaloo Writing Workshops. She’s been awarded writing residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and The Noepe Center for the Literary Arts. She holds a M.F.A. from Chicago State University and a PhD. from University of Illinois at Chicago. She has taught writing for over twelve years and is the current Director of the Chicago Writers Studio and a faculty member of the Chicago State University M.F.A. program.

Cole’s sessions for MWW19 include:

  • Building Authentic Lives – This workshop will introduce you to strategies to imagine and develop compelling and authentic characters who leap off of the page.
  • Short Story 101 – This workshop will introduce you to the basic tools every good short story writer uses to create engaging and unique fiction. We will discuss plot, point of view, setting, dialogue, and character development.
  • Panel: Writing Beyond Your Experiences – Ashley Hope Pérez, moderator. As writers, we are always making a leap outside of our own experiences, but doing so responsibly is especially important when we are engaging in narrative with communities we aren’t part of. What are the dos and don’ts of creating a diverse world in your stories? How does this effort matter to the quality of your writing? (Mitchell L.H. Douglas, Cole Lavalais, Larry Sweazy)

Gail Werner, long-time friend of Midwest Writers Workshop, caught up with Cole recently and interviewed her for this Q&A.

MWW/GW:  Can you tell me more about your background and how you got into writing fiction?

Cole: I started writing about 20 years ago. I was working on my Masters degree in psychology, and my thesis supervisor mentioned something about writing a book based on my thesis research, and I got really excited at the mention of me writing a book. And I knew right then I was going to write a book, but it wasn’t going to be based on my research. Soon after I began writing my first novel.

MWW/GW: You write short stories and you published your first novel, Summer of the Cicadas, in 2016. Which style of writing comes more naturally to you-short stories or novel writing? Or do you enjoy writing both equally?

Cole: I didn’t really have a lot of exposure to short story collections growing up, so most of my models were novels. I only really began focusing on short stories after I finished my first novel because I didn’t have the energy to commit to my characters that a novel requires.  I figured in a shorter genre, I could write about them and be done with them in a couple of months.

MWW/GW: Where do you seek inspiration for your stories? Is there anything you do to generate ideas, other than wait for your “muse” to appear?

Cole: Luckily, I have never had a shortage of ideas for stories. I have more ides than I have time to write. Sometimes they come from a story I hear in passing or sometimes they come from those close to me. I’ve also been known to just make things up completely. I’m really good about unplugging in public, so I can watch and listen to the people around me. You’d be surprised to see the types of stories that will find you out and about in your every day life.

MWW/GW: One of your upcoming sessions at Midwest Writers 2019 is titled “Short Story 101”. I’ve heard it said that writing a short story is the perfect place to begin your writing career. Do you agree with that opinion? 

Cole: I do. The short story genre is the perfect place to hone your writing skills. If you can tell a whole entire story in 10 pages or 5 pages or 1 page, you are ready to tell a story in 300 pages. Writing the short story well teaches you about story structure and language that is easily translatable to longer genres.

MWW/GW: You were born and raised in Chicago, and you’re a founding director of the Chicago Writers Studio. Can you share your thoughts about the literary scene there? It seems like it’s really taken off, in recent years especially.

Cole: Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, so things happening in one part of the city, aren’t really accessible to the other parts of the city. While the literary scene has definitely spread in the last five years, we can really do better supporting and hosting events all over the city.

MWW/GW: Can you share with us anything about what you are working on right now?

Cole: I’m currently working on a short story collection set in Chicago in the early 80’s and a novel set in a small town in Alabama.

MWW/GW: And lastly, when you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing? 

Cole: Sleeping, eating, and walking my dogs.

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Critically acclaimed YA author Ashley Hope Pérez | MWW19

Meet YA author Ashley Hope Pérez

Ashley is a critically acclaimed author of young adult novels and teaches world literatures at The Ohio State University. Her most recent novel  Out of Darkness  received a Printz Honor Award for Literary Excellence and won the 2016 Tomás Rivera Book Award and the 2016 Américas Award. It was also named a “best book of 2015” by Kirkus Reviews  and  School Library Journal  and was selected by  Booklist magazine as one of “50 Best YA Books of All Time.” Ashley’s other novels include  What Can’t Wait  and  The Knife and the Butterfly . She lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she enjoys all four seasons and tries to keep up with her two sons, Liam Miguel and Ethan Andrés. Visit her online at  http://www.ashleyperez.com/.

Ashley’s sessions include:  Organic Plot Development ( a discovery-based approach to shaping your narrative’s direction and getting characters into action); Get Inspired, Find Time to Write, and Be Happy While You’re Doing It (Ashley & author Alisa Alering); and she will moderate the panel Writing Beyond Your Experiences (with Mitchell L.H. Douglas, Cole Lavalais, Larry Sweazy). Her Friday morning Buttonhole the Expert topic for discussion is: Engaging diversity and difference in fiction: Craft, research, and responsibility.

Gail Werner, long-time friend of Midwest Writers Workshop, caught up with Ashley recently and interviewed her for this Q&A.

MWW/GW: How did your writing career begin?

AHP: I had several professors encourage me during my college years, but I became a published writer because I found my audience. This happened when I started teaching English and ESL in Houston. Besides meeting all the standards and getting my students ready to have a serious chance at completing college, I wanted them to discover the pleasure of reading, a notion that was pretty foreign to most of my students. As my kids told me about what did or didn’t engage them, I learned that many of them felt “their story” was missing from the library shelves. My first novel, What Can’t Wait, incorporates many of the stories they shared with me, and I finished the first draft just in time to give it to my last group of students (all seniors) for graduation. My students were my first readers, and their excitement still tops every success I’ve had since.

MWW/GW: One of your MWW19 sessions is on the topic of revision-how it’s not for the faint of heart. What have you learned about revising over the course of your career as an author?

AHP: For me, writing is really all about rewriting. I cannot express to you how horrendous my first drafts can be–shapeless, overwritten, awkward. But that doesn’t matter, because once I have something with characters, and something like a beginning, a middle, and an end, I can revise and revise and revise.

For most of my novels there have been about ten substantial revisions, and for most of these rounds, I start typing in a new document rather than just making changes to the old file. Doing this helps me to write new scenes or rewrite ones that aren’t working.

MWW/GW: What are your tips for how to manage your time and still work on your craft?

AHP: Be sure to sleep. It sounds obvious, but often when we’re overtaxed, we think that stealing hours from sleep will help us get more done. In the end, it only sabotages the next day’s productivity. Also, map out goals week by week and month by month. I try to have a semester or year plan and a five-year plan. Although achieving a goal often takes longer than we expect, putting it down on paper brings us a smidge closer to making the daily choices that will turn the aspiration into a reality.

MWW/GW: Your most recent book, the award-winning Out of Darkness, is a story about segregation, love, and family, set against the backdrop of a Texas school explosion in 1937. What drew you to want to write historical fiction?

AHP: I really wanted to shed light on an event that occurred close to home and also to use that project to shine some light on the experiences of minoritized people, which have too often been relegated to the margins of mainstream histories or erased altogether. We all need to engage with these stories.

Also, I think that readers of all ages benefit from the chance to recognize how many of the “givens” in our society can be changed. Historical fiction doesn’t just show us how bad (or good) the past was; it dramatizes different ways of living, doing, relating, learning. Those differences in the past remind us of the possibility of change in the future. When we get that we are, individually and collectively, a work-in-progress, it’s possible to begin talking about how our society needs to grow and change if we are to envision a more just future.

MWW/GW: What makes being a writer gratifying to you?

AHP: After they read an early draft of my first book What Can’t Wait, a couple of my former students wrote me these incredibly powerful, moving letters. One of them said:

This is the first book that I have ever read from beginning to end. There are so many things here that I have never seen in a book before . . . There were lots of times I stopped reading a book, but I didn’t want to stop reading this book.

He was one of my students who struggled most to care about what he was reading, so it was very moving that he took the time not only to read the book but also to let me know what it had meant to him. Even if the book had never been published, it was already worth it in that moment because I had a reader for whom the book was a gateway experience. And I think that’s what I love: for my books to be gateway drugs for readers, to make them want to read more, because they’ve experienced something they hadn’t experienced before.

MWW/GW: Can you share details about what you are working on right now?

AHP: Although I’m sure I’ll be back to writing novels in the future, I’ve been working a bit more in shorter form pieces and some creative non-fiction, like a forthcoming piece that will appear in the Rural Voicesanthology. The book I want to write next is set “now,” and there are some ways that the present political and social moment simply feels too unstable for me to predict how my characters’ lives will unfold.

MWW/GW: And finally, when you’re not writing, what could we find you doing?

AHP: I’m a full-time literature professor at The Ohio State University, so that takes up some minutes of my days. I also love cooking lavish breakfasts, collaging notebooks, and taking walks with my sons Liam Miguel and Ethan Andrés. Columbus has a ridiculous number of fancy ice cream places (I love Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream and Whit’s Frozen Custard), so making those rounds also keeps us busy!

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Creativity = Novelty x Utility

Meet MWW19 faculty member Bryan Furuness!

Bryan Furuness is the author of The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson, a novel. His next novel, Do Not Go On, will come out in the winter of 2019. With Michael Martone, he is the co-editor of Winesburg, Indiana, an anthology. His next anthology, My Name was Never Frankenstein: And Other Classic Adventure Tales Remixed, will be forthcoming from Break Away Books in the fall of 2018. His stories have appeared in Ninth Letter, Sycamore Review, Southeast Review, Hobart, and elsewhere. His essays have appeared in Brevity, Nashville Review, and Barrelhouse, among other venues. His work has been anthologized in New Stories from the Midwest, Not Like the Rest of Us: An Anthology of Contemporary Indiana Writers, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and elsewhere. He is a recipient of the Tennessee Williams Scholarship in fiction from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a finalist for the Society of Midland Authors award, and a winner of the Midwest Short Fiction contest. He holds an MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers and has edited for several literary magazines and small presses, including Booth, On Earth As it Is, Engine Books, and Pressgang, the small press he founded at Butler in 2012. He lives in Indianapolis, where he teaches at Butler University and serves on the board of Engine Books.

Bryan’s MWW19 sessions include:

  • Session #3: Intro to Editing – A session about global editing and line editing, including exercises that can help students edit the work of other writers or revise their own work.
  • Session #3: Forming a Writing Habit – Figuring out your own ideal creative process and starting a sustainable writing practice.
  • Session #3: Reading like a Writer – Once you develop this way of seeing how stories are built, every text will become a teacher.

Bryan is also a member of the Manuscript Evaluation Team. Here’s your opportunity to have an author and editor evaluate your manuscript pages!

Jama Kehoe Bigger, MWW Director, interviewed Bryan for this installment of our MWW19 faculty Q&A.

MWW: You have a page “Notes on Creativity” on your website. What do believe are the components of creativity?

BF: Here’s a simple formula, straight from the pages of Creativity 101 by James Kauffman: Creativity = Novelty x Utility

“Novelty” means new or different. “Utility” is a little less obvious-here it’s talking about how appropriate the creation is for the situation.

Finally, note the multiplication sign. If either novelty or utility are a zero, the whole thing is an airball.

For example: I ask you for a story. In response, you slowly push a banana up your nose.

Novel? Sure. Task-appropriate? Uh, no. Therefore, not creative.

(For a slightly more developed take on this topic, see this post. And if you like this kind of thing, you can sign up for my newsletter here and get a few short posts about creativity delivered to your inbox every three weeks.)

MWW: Since you are an author and an editor, what do you see as the common traps for aspiring writers?

BF: I’ll give you one that’s been on my mind lately: overestimating the amount of talent it takes to write a book, and underestimating the time and effort and sheer persistence that it takes.

(This miscalculation isn’t exclusive to the writing world, by the way. See also this article with a very explain-y title: “People Underestimate the Value of Persistence for Creative Performance“)

Here’s a weird disconnect. If you tell people that it takes ten years of devoted work to reach mastery of a skill–not greatness, but mere mastery–they will nod and say, Right, that makes sense. But if you tell them that means it could very well take them ten years or more to write a novel, no matter how good their idea is . . . well, you can see the despair on their face.

But the thing is, you’re allowed to enjoy those ten years (or however long it takes). Actually, you better enjoy it. If you find that you don’t actually like writing all that much–if you’d rather be a person with a book than a person who writes–hit the eject button early and save yourself a ton of suffering.

MWW: What is your writing process like?

BF: I don’t have one.

Or, rather, I don’t have just one. My process depends on the type of project, the reason for writing, the time I get to work on it, and probably a thousand other factors I can’t consciously discern.

For example, my process for writing this response is different than my approach for my current novel project, which is different than my approach for my last novel project, which is different than answering a hundred emails in an hour, which is different than–

You get the idea. Each project calls for something different. I have a mental junk drawer full of strategies, and I’m always on the lookout for new strategies. That way, if a certain combination doesn’t work, there’s always something else I can try. Flexibility is key. Flexibility and an experimental spirit.

That said, certain threads run through my creative practice, no matter what I’m writing. Daydreaming. Making notes. Showing up to the page (almost) every day, and finding ways to lower the pressure and boost the joy.

MWW: What advice do you have for writers coming to MWW19? What will your sessions emphasize?

BF: The first time I went to a writing conference, I ran into one of my old teachers. “Pace yourself,” she said when I breathlessly told her about all the panels I’d already seen and everything I was planning to do.

Nah, I thought. I’m fine. I want to squeeze every last drop out of this conference.

As it turned out, the conference squeezed every last drop out of me–before dinner on the first day. So learn from my mistake, my friends, especially if you’re an introvert who needs the occasional oasis of solitude to recharge. Pace. Yourself.

Okay, about my sessions. Three sessions, three different topics: writing, reading, and editing.

  • Writing: We’ll talk about process and practice, the cornerstones of the writing life.
  • Reading: Once you learn how to “read like a writer,” every text will become a teacher.
  • Editing: We’ll dig into global editing and line editing, playing around with exercises that can you help you edit the work of other writers or revise your own material.

Hope to run into you there. And if I look all wild-eyed and manic, remind me of my own advice, won’t you?

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Are you writing a mystery? Need help with a writing plan?

We look forward to welcoming Mary Carter – a Chicago-based, bestselling novelist and workshop leader at the Chicago Writer’s Loft – to MWW19 this July.

Mary’s works have been translated into a number of languages and include: Home With My Sisters, London From My Windows, Meet Me in Barcelona, Three Months in Florence, The Things I Do For You, The Pub Across the Pond, My Sister’s Voice, Sunnyside Blues, She’ll Take It, and Accidentally Engaged. In addition to her novels, she has written six novellas, two of which have been New York Times bestselling anthologies.

Readers and aspiring writers can check her out at MaryCarterBooks.com and thewritersloft.com, follow her on Twitter @marycarterbooks, or like her on Facebook at Mary Carter Books.

Mary also writes under the pen name Carlene O’Connor and is a USA Today bestselling author of “The Irish Village Mysteries.” To date, as Carlene O’Connor, she has written Murder in an Irish Village, Murder at an Irish Wedding, and Murder in an Irish ChurchyardMurder at an Irish Pub, and Murder in Galway. September 2019 will see the release of A Christmas Cocoa Murder. Readers can visit her at CarleneOConnor.net or Carlene O’Connor on Facebook.

Mary will be joining us as part of the MWW faculty for the first time. Her Thursday workshops include “Get a Clue: Setting the Mystery Scene” and “Not the Usual Suspect: Developing Characters for Your Mystery.” During Friday morning’s buttonhole session, she will lead discussions on “Words as Weapons.” And Friday afternoon, she will present “Plotting and Re-writing Your Mystery: Where the Magic Happens.”

Janis Thornton, long-time friend of Midwest Writers Workshop, caught up with Mary recently and interviewed her for this Q&A.

MWW:  According to your bio on the Fantastic Fiction website, you’re an actor! Please tell us a bit about how you’ve applied your acting techniques to writing, primarily in creating and building your characters.

MC/CC: 

I consider myself an ex-actor, although maybe there’s no such thing. When I finally took the writing course that I now teach, the light bulb went on as far as the connection between writing and acting. All the work I did on my characters as an actress now had to apply to all the characters in the story. Acting helped with scene study, dialogue, motivation, and most importantly feeling everything your characters are feeling. It was a fabulous foundation for my journey as a writer, and I believe sped up my development once I made the connections.

MWW:  When did you write your first cozy mystery, what led you to the genre, and what do you enjoy about writing them?

MC/CC: 

I wrote Murder in an Irish Village approximately five years ago. It was a request from my editor. He first asked if I would be interested in writing a murder mystery series for them set in England. I answered honestly, that I would have no idea how to do that -then added – but I could set in Ireland. I was in a parking lot of a grocery store in North Carolina. I had just moved there because I was tired of writing and working day jobs, so I Googled “cheapest, nicest places to live” and ended up in Wilmington, North Carolina. I will be honest. I never read “cozy” mysteries before that, unless you’re counting Agatha Christie as cozy. It’s the publishers that focus on genre. As a writer, there are times I’m given restrictions – i.e., there are reader expectations built into the genre of cozy mysteries, but then I had to write one that I would want to read. That isn’t a dig on the genre; I just wasn’t an avid reader of them, as I preferred gritty mysteries as a reader. I enjoy the challenge of sticking to those guidelines, but also stretching them, and creating a believable and compelling mystery within those guidelines.

MWW:  What is your biggest challenge in keeping your storylines and characters fresh?

MC/CC: 

Believe it or not, I haven’t run into that yet. I’ve been able to keep each mystery fresh by imagining scenarios that interest me. I employ change of seasons, new characters coming to town, new subjects – be it genealogy, or weddings, or poker games, and in the current one I’m writing, the characters venture a little outside of their hometown to shake things up a bit.

MWW:  How have your Irish ties influenced your writing, characters, and plotting?

MC/CC: 

Of course. All my years of research at Irish pubs in NYC paid off. And all my Irish friends, Irish exes, and Irish in the family line. It’s impossible to imagine the series set anywhere else, as setting and characters are such a deep part of the story. I’m sure I get things wrong that an Irish native would notice. I strive to learn from those mistakes with each book.

MWW:  What authors have inspired you?

MC/CC: 

Oh boy. I read everything I can get my hands on and that is a long list. I guess I’ll stick to mysteries. I like everyone from Tana French, Sue Grafton, Ann Cleeves, Raymond Chandler, John Grisham, Dennis Lehane, Jane Harper, Lisa Gardner, Tony Hillerman. I also love psychological thrillers. My TBR list is always piled high, and I read widely across genres. And now that I have author friends, I love all their books too.

MWW:  And lastly, what’s the best way for participants in your sessions to prepare, and what is the best new writing tip you want them to leave with?

MC/CC: 

No preparation needed, just an open mind, and a notebook, (or laptop), and I will leave them with a writing plan – the WOAES – that they can use the rest of their writing lives! Is that a little mysterious? A mini cliffhanger? I hope so!

MWW:  Thank you, Mary! We’re all looking forward to meeting you.

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Author Platform and Career Development Bootcamp with Jane Friedman!

An all-day bootcamp to help authors sort through various strategies, tools, and opportunities available

and what makes sense at this point in time for the next stage of their careers  

Midwest Writers board member Dianne Despain (writing as Dianne Drake for Harlequin), who got her start at MWW in 1993 and now has 57 books published, asked Jane Friedman about the Author Platform and Career Development Bootcamp intensive workshop she will teach at MWW19 (Saturday, July 27) this summer.

 

MWW: So first, who, exactly is your bootcamp directed toward?

Jane: It’s for published authors or soon-to-be-published authors (those with a release date) who want to develop a long-term, sustainable strategy for marketing and promoting their work.

Many authors are confused about how to prioritize the many marketing tools and opportunities available-and what makes sense for their particular genre or readership. By the end of this bootcamp, writers will have a clearer idea of what’s next for them-and if all goes well, an action plan with specific and concrete next steps for the year(s) ahead.

MWW: If you could list the top five things your bootcamp will address, what would they be?

Jane:

  • A strong definition and understanding of your target audience or readership. What is your understanding of your readership and who they are? How can you find out? Is there a potential readership you’re missing out on?
  • Optimization of your product (your books or anything else you do) and brand. How well are your books “optimized” to appeal to your target audience? Are you offering a coherent marketing message across everything you do? Are you using the language of readers to help your efforts?
  • Direct reach development. How do you reach readers currently, and what areas need shoring up? What opportunities are available to expand your direct reach? What does your own website, email newsletter, or social media analytics tell you about that reach and where the opportunities lie?
  • Lead generation. What strategies and tools do you use to reach new readers? How effective are your methods? What methods should you try?
  • Using the power of community to help you. What opportunities exist to improve your reach through collaborations, partnerships, and influencers?

MWW: Since you’re known for your nonfiction writing and advice, how will this workshop benefit fiction writers or poets?

Jane: My books and courses help writers from all across the industry. I focus on teaching marketing and business best practices that remain the same regardless of the genre you work in.

MWW: Is there an overall commonality between fiction and nonfiction when planning your career?

Jane: Regardless of what you write, the more you understand your target reader, how to reach them, and how to engage them, the more successful you’ll be at turning your writing into a sustainable business.

MWW (DD): I wrote for Women’s Day, Family Circle, etc. back in the day when they wanted words. The market has changed drastically since then, words counts are lower, pay is much lower, so is there a way to break into the magazine market today and make a living, or do magazine journalists need to seek out other types of writing to make ends meet?

Jane: It’s still possible to make a living as a freelancer, but it’s far more difficult to do so if focused strictly on getting paid by the print magazine market. Most freelancers have to diversify their business model and consider working for a range of outlets, print and digital, and consider work that readers might pay for directly. (Paid subscription newsletters are very popular right now with journalists of all kinds.)

When I first entered the publishing industry twenty years ago, one of the most popular books for freelancers was The Well-Fed Writer, which focused on how writers could get paid a much better rate by pitching themselves to corporate clients and businesses. E.g., there is significant demand for magazine-like content for businesses as diverse as Netflix, American Express, and Warby Parker. Even high-minded institutions like the New York Times and Atlantic have divisions to offer businesses custom content-to help pay their bills. So, if freelancers are flexible about the type of work they’ll do, there is paying work to be found.

MWW: Self-help books used to be all the rage in nonfiction. Are they still, or is there something else out there that’s currently the hot trend?

Jane: In recent years nonfiction sales overall have increased all around the globe. Partly this is due to current events and the political situation-so you’ll see growth in those categories. But personal development (i.e., self-help and self-improvement) continues to dominate, in both the adult and children’s markets. When I was at London Book Fair last month, a representative from Nielsen said she’d studied the words that are most common in the titles of books forthcoming in 2019. They include inspiration, calm, happy, and mindfulness.

In the current landscape, you might categorize nonfiction publishing growth in two ways: there are books that help you learn and understand the world, but then there are books that help you cope with and escape the world. (And some books are a little of both.)

MWW: If there’s one best piece of advice you’d give an aspiring writer, what would that be?

Jane: Be patient with yourself and your progress.

MWW: And similarly, if there’s one best piece of advice you’d give a writer who’s had some success and is finally on the way?

Jane: Be patient in growing your readership.

 

This intensive is ideal for published authors or about-to-be-published authors, whether self-published or traditionally published. 

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 Savannah Brooks at the MWW Agent Fest

Meet Savannah Brooks, literary agent with Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency

Savannah Brooks joined the Jennifer De Chiara team in 2018, after interning for a year and a half. She’s a nonfiction MFA candidate at Hamline University and earned her BS in marketing management from Virginia Tech. As well as agenting, she works as an editor at Red Bird Chapbooks, as a teaching artist at the Loft Literary Center, and as a reader for multiple literary magazines. Her own creative work has been publishing in Barely South Review, Hobart, Lime Hawk, and Every Writer’s Resource, among others. When not immersed in the world of words, she can be found on her motorcycle, at her boxing gym, or lounging at one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. She lives in the most beautiful literary capital: Saint Paul. Follow her @slbrooks91.

Savannah’s Wish List:

For YA, she’s interested in books that focus on friendship, conflicting identity, and the theme of truth. She’s always drawn in by a protagonist venturing into a realm where society says they don’t belong (think swapping gender norms), and characters with weird obsessions. She’s all about magical realism, mythology, and modern retellings (but not high fantasy or science fiction). She’s invested in representing the diverse world in which we live and would like to see that reflected in a cast of characters. Show her variations in race, sexuality, gender, dis/ability, and ethnicity without that difference being a point of contention.

For adult fiction, she’s interested in contemporary/literary novels/stories that are relevant to culture and focus on themes and issues that impact our daily lives. She loves a meaty cast and am drawn in by the fine line between humor and depth (think Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers). She would love to hear more from marginalized voices, regardless of whether or not marginalization is a central theme.

She’d love to bring more nonfiction into this world, especially topic-driven books/essays such as those written by the likes of Mary Roach, Leslie Jamison, Michelle McNamara, Malcolm Gladwell, and Bill Bryson. She’s also interested in memoir that will inspire generations to come—H is for Hawk is a personal favorite—and interested in humor that does more than just make her laugh—see: Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood.

MWW Board Member Marissa Rose interviewed Savannah about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest.

MWW: What’s something that comes out soon that you’re excited about? 

SB: I’m cheating a bit with this one because the book has already come out, but Angie Thomas’s new YA novel, On the Come Up, is on my immediately-to-read list. It just arrived on my doorstep the other day, and I can’t wait to crack it open.

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

SB: I really want to see more teenagers (and all characters, really) who are engaged in things outside of school. Not just sports (although sports are good too) but maybe a weird hobby or job. Or maybe they’re deeply embedded in a culture or community otherwise inaccessible to some readers. As a poster child of innate human curiosity, I want to learn about something new while I’m reading.

MWW: What are you tired of seeing? 

SB: YA novels where either the establishment of high school or the parents are the ultimate evil. Both high school and parents have an intense psychological impact on teenagers, and that impact can be negative, no doubt, but those relationships are always more nuanced than that of a hero and villain. For adult fiction, I’m tired of characters whose entire persona relies on other characters or on the plot. I want a narrator to be able to stand on his/her/their own.

MWW: What questions should a writer coming to Midwest Writers Agent Fest ask an agent who is offering representation? 

SB: Seeking representation is ultimately seeking someone to nurture and grow your professional development as a writer. So asking questions that move past the business logistics of writing and selling and get more at the ways you would work together and the future of your career are really telling for finding the best fit.

Come pitch to Savannah!

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.