MWW Alumni News

Bragging a bit!

From Kate SeRineI attended the 2010 Midwest Writers Workshop, courtesy of the Zilpha Danner Memorial Scholarship. While there, I learned some great information and made my first pitch to an editor. The editor requested my manuscript, and although she eventually passed on the manuscript, the experience was invaluable in boosting my confidence! Feeling pretty good about how things were going, I entered the manuscript in the Finally a Bride Contest (sponsored by the Oklahoma chapter of Romance Writers of America) and ended up being a finalist and placing 2nd. In addition, the editor who was a final judge requested my manuscript and (several months later!) made an offer.

I’m happy to announce that my novel, Red (Book 1 of my Transplanted Tales series), was sold in a three-book deal to Alicia Condon at Kensington Books and will be released in August 2012 as part of their new digital-first imprint, eKensington. (And I’m all register to come in July!

From Lori Lowe

I found the Midwest Writers Workshop team to be encouraging and welcoming. While I’ve attended larger writing conferences, MWW is the one I have found most helpful and to which I have returned. I benefited from the 2010 conference by meeting the agent I later signed with and by interacting with and learning from respected faculty. I also made helpful connections and was honored with a Manny Award. Finally, I have made friends with other writers on the publishing journey, and that has made my life richer.

My marriage book was published in late 2011. First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage (available in print and e-book) is an inspirational book with real-life stories of finding true marriage after overcoming adversity. Or check my blog.

From Elaine L. Orr

The second book of my Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series (electronic and paperback), Rekindling Motives, was released last year. (Appraisal for Murder is the-first in the series.) Lightening struck when I heard Mike Lawson (during last year’s Intensive Session) describe how to put more punch into an opening paragraph of a novel, and I rewrote the first paragraph of my four-book mystery series.  A number of people have said the opening really drew them into the book.

“Terry Faherty helped hone my first book”

Meet Terence Faherty!

In our last E-pistle, D.E. (Dan) Johnson praised Terry Faherty for his mentoring help on the first chapters of his historical mystery, The Detroit Electric Scheme. “I become a MWW Fellow in 2008,” said Dan, “where Terry Faherty helped me hone the beginning of my first book, which sold four months later. MWW works!”

That’s what Terry does: encourage, instruct, and provide direction for improving and selling your writing. He’s been a MWW supporter for many years, participating in our Writers’ Retreat and mini-conferences. If you want to learn how to develop a well-structured plot, sign up for Terry’s Writing the Mystery – Idea to Plot to Story.  (Short assignments included!)

FahertyTerence Faherty is the author of two mystery series. The Scott Elliott private eye series is set in the golden age of Hollywood and is a two-time winner of the Shamus Award, given by the Private Eye Writers of America. The Owen Keane series, which follows the adventures of a failed seminarian turned metaphysical detective, has been nominated twice for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award.  His short fiction, which appears regularly in mystery magazines and anthologies, has won the Macavity Award from Mystery Readers International.

Terry had two new titles in 2011, both in the Elliott series. Dance In The Dark, his eleventh novel, was published by Five Star and is set in 1969.  Perfect Crime Books released a collection of the Elliott stories entitled The Hollywood Op, which contains all the Elliott short stories published to date, including the Shamus winner “The Second Coming.” In 2012, a new Owen Keane novel, Eastward In Eden, will be published by the Mystery Company.

Q. What accomplishment or achievement are you most proud of as an author? What has been the most satisfying aspect of getting published?

DeadstickI don’t think any accomplishment has meant as much to me as the sale of my first novel, Deadstick, not even my first short story sale a few years earlier, though I can still picture the room where I was standing when I was notified by phone that the story had been accepted.  I heard about the Deadstick sale over the phone, too, and disappointed my editor-to-be with my low-keyed reaction (though I was shouting on the inside).  She kidded me for years about my first words, claiming they were “that’s nice” or something equally intense.

The most satisfying aspect of being published has always been the feedback from readers.  Writing without publishing can feel like launching notes in bottles:  an endless series of messages and no replies. Hearing from someone who’s read you and who appreciates what you’re trying to do is a really wonderful thing.

Q. Please explain how attending writing workshops influenced your career (if it did).

I attended a series of evening workshops given by the Writers Center of Indianapolis after graduating from college and really profited from the feedback from my teachers and fellow writers, though I was sometimes self-conscious about being the only mystery writer in a room of literary writers.  Later, the Writers Center sponsored a program by four touring mystery writers and that turned out to be one of the most significant days of my life.  I made important professional connections that day (and three friendships that I still value).  After hearing those four speak, I was never again embarrassed about being a “mere” mystery writer.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your journey to publication: when and what you first began to write, when you began submitting, to when you received your first contract.

I’ve been telling stories all my life, and writing them as soon as I could write-my earliest surviving manuscript is from the sixth grade.  (It’s a mystery.)  I wrote for and edited my high school and college literary magazines and began sending short stories out shortly after I graduated.  I have rejection slips from the 1970s from Redbook, Atlantic Monthly, and Ellery Queen, among others.  (Luckily, Queen later changed its mind about me.)  My first story sale came about five years after graduation (after the workshops described above) and my first book sale about ten years after that.  All that time, I was working as a technical writer, which did a lot to knock the curlicues off my prose style.

Q. What should writers expect from your intensive workshop and what would authors who don’t write your genre benefit from your session as well?

Writers should expect too much information in too short a time. I would hope they’d come away with some new thoughts on the mystery story that might help them see the potential of it and one or two suggestions about the craft of writing that might help them move their ideas from jottings in a journal to completed manuscripts. I also hope the participants come away with the sense that they’re part of a larger writing community that supports and values their efforts.

Q. What is the best advice on writing that you were ever given, and what is something you wish you had known sooner?

Best advice:  Maintain good relations with your editors.  They’re your first fans and your champions within the publishing world.  Listen to what they say with both ears and chose your inevitable battles carefully.

What I wish I’d known sooner:  Don’t quit your day job, not until your writing income has forced you to seek out tax shelters.

Note: Terry’s Part II Sessions:

  • I’ll Wait to See the Movie – How to use screenwriting techniques to improve the pacing and structure of your book and your chances of selling it.
  • Writing the Period Mystery – A discussion of how to bring to life a historical period through your fiction.  Although aimed specifically at mystery writing, these techniques can be applied to any type of historical writing.
  • Two for the Price of One –  A discussion of the two stories in every mystery, the hidden story and the open story, and how understanding their relationship can make your idea development easier and your plotting more effective.

“Most useful conference ever!”

Meet D.E. (Dan) Johnson!

MWW Committee Member Cathy Shouse continues the Q&As with members of this summer’s workshop faculty. Now it’s Midwest Writers turn to brag a bit on the success of D.E. (Dan) Johnson!

DE JohnsonD.E. Johnson, a graduate of Central Michigan University, is a history buff who has been writing fiction since childhood but had to hit his midlife crisis to get serious about it. His first novel, a historical mystery entitled The Detroit Electric Scheme, was published in 2010 by St. Martin’s Minotaur Books. The Detroit Electric Scheme garnered excellent reviews (including being named one of Booklist’s Top Ten First Crime Novels of the year) and also won a 2011 Michigan Notable Book Award. (Video of Dan on Jay Leno’s Book Club!)

Motor City Shakedown, the first sequel to The Detroit Electric Scheme, was named one of the Top 5 Crime Novels of 2011 by The House of Crime and Mystery, called “extraordinarily vivid” by The New York Times, and won a 2012 Michigan Notable Book Award. Dan’s third book, Detroit Breakdown, will be published in Fall 2012 by St. Martin’s Minotaur Books.

Q. What accomplishment or achievement are you most proud of as an author? What has been the most satisfying?

I guess I’d say getting a second two-book contract has been my biggest accomplishment to date. Receiving a couple of Michigan Notable Book Awards has also been great, but the fact that St. Martin’s believed enough in my potential to commit to two more books makes me very proud.

The most satisfying? Prior to shopping the The Detroit Electric Scheme, I got a letter back from Loren Estleman (Detroit mystery writer) saying he loved the book. I jumped around the living room for about five minutes. (And if you know me, you know how uncharacteristic that is.) It was the moment that I went from trying to believe I had a chance to be published to actually believing it.

Q. Please explain how attending MWW workshop influenced the launch of your career.

My first MWW was in 2006, two months after I left my job to pursue writing. It was, hands-down, the most useful conference I’ve ever gone to. I learned a great deal about writing and about the industry. I went on to become a MWW Fellow in 2008, where Terry Faherty helped me hone the beginning of my first book, which sold four months later. MWW works! (Watch for Terry’s Q&A in the next E-pistle!)

Q. Tell us a little bit about your journey to publication, to include when and what you first began to write, when you began submitting, to when you received your first contract.

I started writing, like most of us, when I was very young. I enjoyed it and was good at it, but by the time I started thinking about a career, I was convinced it wasn’t a practical pursuit. So instead, I got a degree in teaching, which I didn’t want to use, and eventually got into business, where I stayed for 25 years, generally being miserable and always feeling unfulfilled. I tried writing books over the years, but I didn’t know what I was doing. It was just frustrating.

Finally, in 2006 I dove into writing, with the full support of my family. For two years I studied writing and wrote 60-80 hours a week. (I’m known to be a bit obsessive, but I was going to have to get another job after two years. I had motivation.) At the end of those two years, I started querying for an agent. Two months later, I had one. Two months after that, I had a two-book contract. (Don’t throw things at me. There was a lot of being in the right place at the right time.)

Q. What should writers expect from your sessions and what would authors who don’t write your genre benefit from your session as well?

I’ll be working on how to write settings that you can’t escape, writing characters you can’t forget, and when to say “when.”

I write historical mysteries, but the lessons I’ve learned apply to all genres. Whether you write narrative non-fiction, memoir, or fiction, you have to be able to immerse your reader in your story, and there are easy tools to use to accomplish this. The New York Times called my most recent book, Motor City Shakedown, “extraordinarily vivid,” and a large part of that was the setting detail I employed. I can help writers learn how to create a memorable setting.

Nothing’s more important than character. Regardless of genre, your reader has to live and die with your characters in order to have a satisfying read. To do that, your characters have to be real. Not so easy to do, but definitely “learnable.”

Sometimes the most frustrating part of writing is to know when to stop. Every time you look over the work, you find more things to change. You feel like you could go on for an eternity and never really be done. Lie down on the couch and let Dr. Johnson help you move past that doubt and get on with it. The second part of this session addresses when to stop researching and start writing. All it takes is one mistake for the reader to start doubting you. You can’t make that visible error, but you can’t research forever either. I’ll help you work through that.

Q. What is the best advice on writing that you were ever given, and what is something you wish you had known sooner?

Best advice – Put your protagonist in a tree and throw rocks at him. I wish I’d known sooner – a lot sooner – that I had a real chance of making a go at writing novels.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add?

MWW remains my favorite conference of the year. I’ve gone to a lot of conferences, and NONE COMPARES!

Note: Dan’s Part II Sessions:

  • Settings You Can’t Escape – How do some writers create a setting that’s so real that not only can you see what’s happening, you can also hear, smell, feel, and taste it?
  • When to Say When – When should you stop researching and start writing?

Erica O’Rourke’s Secret to Finding a Strong Voice

MWW Committee Member Cathy Day talks with faculty member Erica O’Rourke, who will teach a Part I Intensive entitled “YA Double Header: Strategies for Crafting Compelling Young Adult Novels,” as well as short sessions during Part II on critique partners, the life/work balance, and tricks of the trilogy.

O'RourkeErica is a former high school English teacher who has lived in the Chicago area her entire life. She is the 2010 winner of the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® contest for Best Young Adult Manuscript.  Torn, the first book in the Torn Trilogy, was the launch title for Kensington Books’ KTeen line. When she’s not writing, Erica enjoys reading, watching Doctor Who, and keeping her three daughters and two cats in line – with the help of her exceedingly patient husband, who doesn’t like Doctor Who at all. She loves sushi but hates fish, and drinks far too much coffee. The second book in her trilogy, Tangled, was released in February 2012, and the third, Bound, will launch June 26, 2012.Bound bk cvr


Q: Your intensive will feature strategies related finding a strong, distinctive YA voice. What does that term, “voice,” mean to you, and why is it important?

One of the things that characterizes YA today is a strong narrative voice, whether you’re writing in first person or third. It requires that you get inside the skin of your character and perceive the world as they do. Everything that occurs in the story needs to be filtered through their experiences — if they come from a small village, they shouldn’t talk about the subway expertly, for example, but they might think in terms of nature metaphors. A character who’s an athlete might view everything as a competition; a character who’s a brilliant student might view every conflict as a test. (Those are gross oversimplifications, of course, but they provide a starting point — you’ll refine as you write, and even more in revision.)

Q: I like that that phrase, “filter through their experiences,” because I’ve noticed that many of my students write as if they are watching their characters, when instead they have to be their characters.  

Yes, deep point of view is really tricky, and truth be told, one of the reasons I prefer writing in first person.

Q: Can you give us one tip, one trick you use for getting inside characters and finding their voice that’s worked for you? How did you find Mo’s voice? I’ll even share one of my own tricks: I imagine my character posting Facebook status updates or tweeting to figure out her voice.

My favorite quick-and-dirty trick to get to know a character — or to build one — is to plan out his or her class schedule. By the time they’re juniors or seniors, kids have a fair amount of flexibility in their coursework: they can take a variety of core classes depending on their career goals, and their elective choices number in the billions. So, I typically download the course handbook from the sort of school my heroine is attending, whether it’s a Catholic all-girls school or one that’s small and rural. I decide what their post-high school plans are: prestigious university? work? backpacking across Europe? Once I know that, I fill in the classes I think they’d take, paying special attention to the electives. A student who takes a lot of speech and drama electives is going to have a more assured, confident voice. Someone who takes a lot of computer science electives is going to have a more logical voice. Again, these are broad strokes. You don’t want your protagonist sounding like Spock just because they’re taking a programming class, but knowing this about them gives you a filter, and you can decide how much you want the filter to apply. You can also use this to make your characters voice and situation more complex: If you have someone who’s taking Principles of Accounting AND Interpretive Dance, it’s pretty clear that something’s up on the home front. That tension should show up in the way she views the world, and herself, and her interactions with other people.

Do you have to stick to your schedule? Not at all. You can use this even if you’re writing a book set completely outside of a high school, if you want – if you’re writing a sci-fi book set in outer space, envision what they’d study: Fitness in Zero Gravity; Airlock Maintenance; AP Klingon History. The key is to use this schedule to understand your protagonist better, to really internalize how they view the world and then apply that to your writing.

Q: As soon as you signed on to teach at MWW, I ordered Torn and tore through it, and a few months later, read Tangled with just as much anticipation. I’m really looking forward to Bound and seeing how the trilogy resolves. Here’s the question I’ve wanted to ask you for awhile: on your website, you say you “write books about girls who make their own fate and fall for boys they shouldn’t,” and I think it’s really important that your books do both those things. Why is it important as a YA author to strike that balance, and how do you do it?

I think the balance is important in YA because to focus exclusively on either one risks making the characters stagnant or unrelatable. If the entire storyline is about the relationship between a protagonist and their love interest, with no thought to the repercussion it has on the rest of their life, you’re looking at a character that won’t really grow or change, because that relationship is only one aspect of their life. And it’s not realistic, because even though teenagers might feel that the relationship they’re in is The Most Important Thing In The World, they’re accustomed to pressure and conflict in all areas of their life: school, parents, friends, jobs, sports, etc. Similarly, a character who pursues a goal single-mindedly, who doesn’t care about the people and events around her, is neither sympathetic or realistic.

Q: That’s a really good way to put it: it’s more realistic for a character to care about both Life and Love. Mo isn’t just “torn” about which guy to choose. She’s also torn about what she wants out of life, right?

For me, the key was to make sure that each boy represented a potential future for Mo: either a life with the Arcs, and the dangers inherent in that, or a life in Chicago, negotiating a truce with the Mob. I don’t want to spoil Bound for you, but I’ll say this: Mo chooses which life she wants well before she chooses between the guys. That was always the crux of the story: Mo’s journey to determine who she wanted to be and what kind of life she wanted for herself. The boys, while great fun to write, were a way of representing those choices.

Register for Erica’s Thursday (July 26) Intensive Session, “YA Double Header: Strategies for Crafting Compelling Young Adult Novels.”

(Limited class size, so don’t wait!)

Meet editor and poet Kathleen Rooney

MWW committee member Cathy Shouse continues her Q&As with this summer’s outstanding workshop faculty.

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, an independent, 501(c)3 nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres. Her first poetry collection, Oneiromance (an epithalamion) won the 2007 Gatewood Prize from the feminist publisher Switchback Books, and her most recent books include the essay collection For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs (Counterpoint, 2010) and the poetry chapbook, After Robinson Has Gone (Greying Ghost Press, 2011).With Elisa Gabbert, she is the author of That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness (Otoliths, 2008). Her second solo poetry collection, Robinson Alone, a novel in poems based on the life and work of Weldon Kees, is forthcoming this fall from Gold Wake Press.

Q. What accomplishment or achievement are you most proud of as an author? What has been the most satisfying aspect of getting published?

KR: Publishing a book in any genre is a little bit like setting out traps in a forest. You never know who or what you will catch, nor do you know how long it might take to catch them. When I hear from someone that they read one of my books and found something worthwhile in it, I feel like I’ve caught that reader, but also like they have caught me in a way. That sense of human connection-a meeting of the minds-is super satisfying.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your journey to publication, to include when and what you first began to write, when you began submitting, to when you received your first contract.

KR: Like many writers, I began to write poetry as a little kid-kids tend to be natural poets-back when my biggest influences were Richard Scarry’s Best Mother Goose Ever and a book called I Wish I had a Computer That Makes Waffles. But my first “real” published and paid-for piece of prose came out in The Nation in the Spring of 2002. It was an excerpt from a much longer project that eventually became my first book Reading with Oprah: the Book Club that Changed America (University of Arkansas Press, 2005).

Q. What should writers expect from your intensive workshop and what would authors who don’t write your genre (please define your genre) benefit from your session as well?

In writing my own poetry, both by myself and with my writing partner, the poet and blogger extraordinaire Elisa Gabbert, I have found that paradoxically, the greatest freedom can come from the tightest restrictions. So in Obstructionism: Finding Freedom in Poetic Restraint,” we will try to do just that-to re-imagine our approach to composition as not just an attempt to “say something” or to make something “beautiful,” but also to infuse our work with a structural and formal vitality, as well as with “ideas.” Poets and non-poets alike who are looking to see their work with new eyes, and come at their practice in a fresh and unexpected way will get a lot out of this class, especially if they attend with an open mind and a willingness to not always try to be “perfect.”

Register for Kathleen’s Thursday (July 26) Intensive Session, Obstructionism: Finding Freedom in Poetic Restraint. (Limited class size, so don’t wait!)

Social Media Consultants & FREE tutoring

NEW for MWW 2012!

Social Media Consultants & FREE tutoring!

By Cathy Day, MWW Committee Member, Ball State University professor, author of The Circus in Winter and Comeback Season

Because MWW is committed to helping you become a published writer, we talk a lot about social media. That’s because changes in the publishing industry have forced writers to become “author-preneurs”-marketers, promoters, social media experts, and much more. At MWW, we know how time-consuming and confusing these tasks can be, and we want to help by offering free social media tutoring.

Yes, free.

Originally, we were going to require you to pay $35 per consult, but we decided it would be easier and more effective to run it more like a drop-in tutoring center. (Those who already signed up and paid will receive a refund.) Consultants will be available to show you how to start a blog and how to use Facebook and Twitter effectively. We’ll offer a limited number of tutorial sessions, so sign up for your 45-minute individual consultation. Bring your laptop and/or smartphone, and get ready to join the digital age!

Where the Idea Came From

Last year, I was on the faculty at MWW and attended many of Jane Friedman’s panels on how to use social media. I looked around the room and saw people around my own age and older with stunned and frightened looks on their faces, and I thought to myself, “Oh, I know exactly how you feel!” I’m a latecomer to social media. My first forays went badly, and I experienced a profound sense of culture shock. (You can read about it here.) I turned to the young people in my life-my students-who showed me the ropes.

I’m excited to introduce you to these four individuals. Let me tell you about each of them, and I think you’ll see why I selected them to work as social media consultants at MWW.

Meet the Consultants

Fields TyperTyler Fields is in his third year at Ball State University, majoring in Creative Writing and Digital Publishing. He edits the BSU English Department Blog and is co-president of the Writers’ Community.  Both of these positions require maintaining a social media presence and/or professional writing proficiency. Tyler has published both creative pieces and academic articles in various national journals and continues to assist Ball State faculty in their publishing endeavors. Tyler currently maintains several personal social media platforms including his  website, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Twitter, and can be easily reached on Facebook.

Q: Tyler, in a nutshell, why is it important for aspiring writers to maintain some kind of internet presence?

A: The climate of writing, publishing, and reading is shifting drastically and swiftly. Unless a writer has become established before the surge of the internet and social media, it seems there is little to no hope for her to break out of the growing saturation of aspiring writers today. How is she to get notice from agents or presses? I think that because most communication has already shifted to internet-exclusivity, those aspiring writers who have yet to get connected are losing out on a myriad of opportunities. One is simply to create connections with other readers, writers, and publishers. Online, a writer is able to maintain connections with other hopefuls and established personnel. And as with any new prospect, it’s incredibly important to have already made connections with those people who can assist in your writing endeavors. Another opportunity exists in the recent push to publish online. I know of several authors who have been approached by agents from big and small presses to submit a novel manuscript based on their publications to online journals.

Further, because it’s becoming simpler all the time to move forward as a writer without a middleman, many writers are taking advantage of the ability to push and market their work more quickly and efficiently. How do they do this? They have a prominent online presence. In the end, if a writer is able to create and maintain at least a semblance of an online presence, they increase their chances greatly to immerse themselves in the world of reading and writing which has largely taken to rely on the internet to provide new, upcoming, and promising writers.

Ford AshleyAshley C. Ford received her BA in English Studies from Ball State University where she edited the departmental literary magazine The Broken Plate, contributed to the university magazine “Ball Bearings,” and served as communications intern with the Ball State University Foundation. In addition to her work with the university, Ashley served as Blog Editor and Marketing Director for

Specter Magazine and Communications Coordinator for local consulting firm, Whitinger Strategic Services LLC, where she ran six successful marketing campaigns using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and various blog-hosting sites. Feel free to follow her on Twitter: @iSmashFizzle, or read her blog, “The Next Thing.”

Q: Ashley, tell me a story about how social media has enriched your writing life, provided you with an opportunity you might not have had otherwise.

A: Let me say that I have a wonderful group of writing friends and partners right here in Muncie. We share work, attend literary events together, and support one another through the toughest spots of our writing processes. However, it is through the online writing community that I’ve found ways to get my work into the world.

About two years ago, I decided to follow and engage one of my favorite writers on twitter. I just wanted to let her know how much I enjoyed her work and how I found her to be inspirational. This led to her giving me the opportunity to read for a well-known literary magazine she edits. She went on to publish two of my essays in different venues. Through this relationship I have been introduced to other amazing writers, offered invaluable advice on writing and publishing, and she has become my writing mentor. All of this from a few initial tweets!

I know not everyone is looking for a writing mentor, but through social media I have had the opportunity to have conversations with writers from around the world who I may never get the opportunity to meet in person. Some of them have even offered to read and critique my work. These connections are only possible via the internet and I plan on using them to their fullest potential.

McNelly SpencerSpencer McNelly received his BA in Creative Writing from Ball State University where he was a tutor at The Writing Center, a member of Writers’ Community, and a copy editor for Stance, BSU’s international undergraduate philosophy journal. In addition to writing memoir and editing work, Spencer was Vice President of Spectrum, BSU’s GLBTQSA organization, where one responsibility was maintaining the Twitter account for the group. Spencer also blogs on Tumblr and can be reached on Facebook and @androgynisto on Twitter.

Q: Spencer, what would you say to someone who makes an appointment with you at MWW and says, “They say I have to do this. I don’t really want to, but I will if I have to. So show me what I need to do.” And what do you have to offer someone who’s a little more advanced, who says, “I’m doing it, but I think maybe I’m doing it wrong. How can I do this better?”

A: Firstly, I would ask them who “they” is and secondly, I’d assure them that one doesn’t have to be a part of social media. It’s an important aspect of being a literary citizen, but not a requirement. I’d walk them through the three main appendages of social media: Facebook, Twitter, and eBlogger. If someone asked about using social media incorrectly, I’d discuss with them about their goals in being a part of social media. I’d assure them that there isn’t necessarily a wrong way of doing it, just a gap in not getting what one wants from it.

Ralston MayeMaye Ralston worked as a freelance journalist and a professional writer and consultant specializing in marketing and public relations media. She has several years experience with online site development, writing, and marketing – including deploying websites, blogs, and social media and incorporating intersecting media. She is currently studying creative writing at Ball State University, where she continues to explore emerging media.  She plans to apply to MFA programs in the near future. You can follow Maye on Twitter @MayeRalston, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, and at her recent blog “The Well of Creativity.”

Q: Maye, one reason why I selected you is that, unlike the other consultants, you’re not Generation Y. You’re not someone who’s grown up using technology and social media. Like a lot of MWW attendees, you’ve had to learn how to incorporate this into your personal and professional life. What advice do you have for the aspiring writer who’s nervous about dipping their toe into these waters?

A:  Trying something new can be confusing, frustrating, and very time consuming. Certainly it can be risky. Especially if one has already acquired a certain amount of professional reputation capital, it can be intimidating to risk that capital in a technological wilderness. I wish I had had someone to guide me when I first started using online tools and media, it would have saved me hours (months really) of hard and frustrating work. As to the risk: not venturing into new tools and technology can also be risky, as the world may well leave one behind, mired in the muck (yes I love clichés) of outdated methodologies. It is a fact of modern life that technologies will change the way we live and work, at ever decreasing intervals. Keeping up necessarily means taking risks, and that means making mistakes. The good news is that even new media “experts” make mistakes, so we are all in good company. If we desire to remain industry viable, anything we can do to shorten the learning curve in order to get back to our real passion (writing) is worth every penny, and every effort, we spend on it.

Homework Assignment!

The consultants have some questions they’d like you to consider before you arrive at MWW 12 and sign up for an appointment with them.

  • Do you have: a Facebook profile, Twitter account, LinkedIn account, a blog?
  • Are you active on these accounts? How active? How long have you been using them?
  • Are these accounts primarily for personal or professional use? Or both? Are you connected to other writers and publishing personnel?
  • If you have more than one of the items in number one, are they interconnected? (For example does your twitter feed show up on your blog or Facebook feed? Or does your blog feed show up on your LinkedIn profile page?)
  • If you have a blog, what is your primary use of this blog? (personal or professional or a little of both)
  • What is the topic of your blog, if there is a topic or focus?
  • How many followers does your blog have? And whose blogs do YOU follow?
  • Do you know how many followers/friends/connections you have on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook?
  • Are your followers mostly friends and family members, or are they also professional connections? About what percentage of each are there?
  • What 1 or 2 things do you most want to learn during your tutoring session? Be sure to come to the session with a plan, your passwords, and a digital headshot photo.

Email your responses with subject line: “Social Media Homework”

Meet a Pulitzer Prize Finalist!

Meet MWW faculty member Lee Martin

Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction

MWW Committee Member Cathy Shouse continues her Q&As with this year’s faculty. Here is her interview with Lee Martin, who will teach a Part I Intensive Session (“Literary Fiction, The Art of Flash Fiction”), as well as a session on writing the memoir.  

Lee is the author of the novels, The Bright Forever, a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction; River of Heaven; Quakertown; and Break the Skin. He has also published two memoirs, From Our House and Turning Bones, and another memoir, Such a Life, is set to appear in 2012. He teaches in the MFA Program at The Ohio State University, where he was the winner of the 2006 Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching.   

Martin lee

Q. I’ve read The Bright Forever, your novel which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. How is it different from writing the Flash Fiction you’re teaching in your intensive session this summer? Also, I’ve heard the term, but how do you define Flash Fiction and what are some ways writing it can help authors of any genre?

Writing a novel is like running a marathon. It takes endurance and a faith that eventually you’ll cross the finish line. Flash fiction takes a similar faith that you can follow a track over a page, or a few pages, but the process itself is more of a dash. It’s a completely different rhythm, one that allows you to create a draft with few words. A complete story in 500 words, or 750, or 1,000 or so. It’s really more like writing a poem, coming to a moment of illumination. We sometimes call the form sudden fiction, or micro-fiction. Steve Heller says, “Sudden fiction, it seems, can be anything, as long as it is short and delivers an impact that is both significant and lasting.” William Peden is more precise with his definition of the form:  “a single-episode narrative with a single setting, a brief time span, and a limited number of speaking characters (three or four at the most); a revelation-epiphany; the click of a camera, the opening or closing of a window, a moment of insight.” Writing in this compressed form makes the artistic choices that a writer makes in structure, characterization, detail, point of view, and language stand out more boldly. When we write flash fiction, we internalize the tools we need to have in order to write longer works.

Q. You’re also teaching on writing a memoir. Although The Bright Forever is a novel, are there autobiographical aspects to the book? How does exploring one’s life help in writing fiction, if you think it does?

The Bright Forever is based on a true story, the abduction of a young girl in a small town eight miles from where I grew up. Some of the facts of that case made their way into the novel along with a number of created characters, events, etc. I believe that all writing, no matter the form, allows us to think more fully about what Faulkner called “the old verities and truths of the heart.” In The Bright Forever, for example, I was able to express and explore my own experiences growing up in a small Midwestern town and the sense of the inner lives that people lived there.

Q. Explain to us your idea of “literary fiction.” Your setting is a small town and the story deals with the painful subject of a missing young girl, which could, on the surface, be “commercial” fiction. Do you think an author chooses to write literary fiction or does it choose him or her? Some of us are a bit afraid of it. It sounds serious and difficult! 🙂

Oh, I hate hearing that the term “literary fiction” sounds intimidating. I think the writer’s first obligation is to entertain the reader, and, of course, plots similar to more mainstream fiction come into play in literary fiction. Think of The Great Gatsby, for example–a story of a man trying to reconnect with a lost love. Haven’t a number of mainstream novels used that premise for the effect of leading a reader to wonder what will happen next in a plot? That question of what will happen next is important for entertainment value in literary fiction as well, but, unlike many mainstream novels, literary fiction is primarily interested in what the plot of a novel has to show us about characters and the mysteries of human existence. In literary fiction, characters create their own plots through the choices they make and the actions they take. Henry James said, “What is character but the determination of character? What is incident but the illustration of character?” To me, this is the crux of literary fiction–characters creating their own fates and plots revealing more of the mysteries of those characters’ personalities and what they have to show us about what it is to be human. The writer of literary fiction has to be extremely interested in the contradictions that reside within human beings and how acting from those contradictions can unfold plots that will show readers something interesting about the characters who created them. It’s a matter of a writer deciding what he or she wants to do–only entertain a reader, or entertain a reader while also investigating the complexities of human beings.

Q. If someone signs up to learn Flash Fiction in the intensive, is there preparation that should be done? For the uninitiated, can you recommend some quality Flash Fiction for us to explore?

The anthology, Sudden Fiction, edited by Robert Shapard and James Thomas, is an excellent collection of examples of the form. I don’t think any special preparation is necessary. As long as someone has a storytelling impulse, and imagination, and a love of the music language can make on the page, we should be good to go.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add, which might include hints on your philosophy/approach to writing and/or your teaching style?

I’m a firm believer that writing is a matter of artistic choices creating specific effects. Reading and writing flash fiction becomes one way of taking an inventory of such choices and effects.

Q. In these economic times, writers sometimes wonder if they should invest in attending a conference.
Writers’ conferences played a large role in my development as a writer. I was a waiter (work-study scholarship) at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 1986 and then a Scholar there in 1992. Attending that conference, and others, put me in touch with a larger community of writers, editors, and agents. It allowed me a more intense study of craft while at the same time permitting me to make friends and professional contacts that are still important to me to this day. Such are the benefits of attending a writers’ conference. My first published story came about as a result of my first summer at Bread Loaf. That one publication raised my confidence level, and I went on from there.

Message in a Bottle Reading Series: April 28

Message in a Bottle Reading Series celebrate National Poetry Month
When: April 28, 2012
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Cup, 1610 W. University, Muncie, IN

Poets Michael Meyerhofer & Jeffrey Owen Pearson will share from their works. Also, bring a story or poem, drop it in the bottle and if your name is pulled out you read!

MWW Bottle April 28 Event

One Day Intensives March 17, 2012

MWW is offering One-Day Intensive Sessions!

March 17, 2012 at Ball State Alumni Center,  9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

On Saturday, March 17, two returning favorite MWW faculty members join us for encore workshops that feature each one in a cozy full-day session. Make this a St. Patrick’s Day dedicated to improving your writing! These special intensive sessions will be held at at the Ball State Alumni Center, (Muncie, IN) from 9 am to 2:30 pm. Just 20 participants will be able to attend the session of their choice at a cost of $125 (includes a brown bag lunch so the work continues to flow).


Romance Writing

“Once Upon A Time…Writing Your First Novel” with multi-published author SHIRLEY JUMP. Have you ever wanted to write a short story or novel? Wondered what it took to get from “Once upon a time” to “The End”?  This session will help you: [1] decide whether an idea is “big” enough to encompass a novel; [2] create characters; [3] decide on character goals, motivations and conflicts; [4] develop a story arc; [5] create scenes and sequels; [6] polish your manuscript; [7] discover resources for getting published. At the end of this session, you will have a good basic knowledge of how to write a story, and you’ll understand what encompasses a strong plot. [Note: this session is for any fiction writer!]

In 2009, Shirley captivated MWW with her banquet keynote describing how she “quit” writing only days later to receive one of many contracts which brought her to the New York Times bestseller list. She’s published 35+ books, from romantic comedy to romance with recipes to YA with zombies, and has worked for three publishing houses.

A powerhouse of insider publishing information, Shirley will share the secrets she’s learned in her career in this intensive session. She’s currently teaching a popular online course called “Taking A Book From Good To Sold” and is ready to help writers, at whatever stage, in their writing journeys.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shirley Jump spends her days writing women’s fiction and romantic comedies (One Day to Find a Husband, July 2012) to feed her shoe addiction and avoid cleaning the toilets. As AJ Whitten (, she and her daughter also write horror young adult novels for Houghton Mifflin’s Graphia imprint (The Cellar, May 2011). She cleverly finds writing time by feeding her kids junk food, allowing them to dress in the clothes they find on the floor and encouraging the dogs to double as vacuum cleaners. Visit her website at or read recipes and life adventures at



“You must write for children in the same way as you do for adults, only better.”   Maxim Gorky

In this session, we will attempt to give you the ways to accomplish that dictum.  We start with the blank page and an idea and move to 32 pages of glorious writing for kids. Along the way we will discuss the following:  How many words? Which words? If you’re not writing tales of Mister Stickman, where do you get pictures? Do you need an Agent? Which publishers are best?  Who sends the limo to pick you up for your book signings? How do you autograph an ebook? How do you submit your manuscript? Do you need a lawyer to protect your intellectual property? Why is the number three important to picture book writers? How many trips to the mailbox do you have to make before you get a contract?  Here’s my first writing tip: Bring pen, paper and your sense of humor on March 17.

Peter J. Welling is a native Hoosier Hoosier and taught his popular Writing for Children session at the 2005 Midwest Writers Workshop.  He received a degree in English from IUSB (1977) and received the Award of Excellence his senior year.  He is the recipient of the IUSB College of Arts & Sciences Distinguished Alumnus Award (2003). Peter has served as an Adjunct Faculty member at IUPUI Continuing Ed and received the Indiana University Continuing Studies Teaching Excellence Award (2005). He is the author/illustrator of six pictures books and illustrator of The Kvetch Who Stole Hanukkah which will be receiving recognition from Storytelling World Awards in spring, 2012. Peter wrote two police novels which were published in London under the pseudonym Steve Garcia.  He has also illustrated two novels by Katherine Black.  Peter and his wife have four sons, three and a half daughters in law, and five grandkids.

Picture Books (Illustrated and Authored)

  • Andrew McGroundhog and His Shady Shadow
  • Shawn O’Hisser, The Last Snake in Ireland
  • Michael LeSouffle and The April Fool
  • Justin Potemkin and The 500 Mile Race
  • Joe Van der Katt and The Great Pickett Fence
  • Darlene Halloween and The Great Chicago Fire


  • The Kvetch Who Stole Hanukkah

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Applause Applause for 2011 MWW!

This was the summer of action-packed superhero movies at the cinema. AND it was also the summer of inspirational-packed superhero MWW faculty at the Midwest Writers Workshop!

These comments capture the 2011 MWW experience shared by 175 participants (from 13 states and Canada), 14 faculty and 12 planning committee members:

“I want to let you know that this is hands down the BEST writers’ conference I’ve ever attended.” – Kathleen Ortiz, literary agent, Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation

“Thank you for everything you did to make MWW pleasant, productive and comfortable. The attendees were so warm and welcoming, and from what I’ve seen, the most talented I’ve met at conferences. So, I now see why everyone says such nice things about MWW – because they’re true.” – Jessica Sinsheimer, Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency

Images to remember: How to Write a Great Query Letter discussion with our four agents; Kelsey Timmerman’s “The Care and Feeding of Agents” and his strange hand gesture for shooing away agents; the Blue Bottle open mic evening (where we heard snippets of many genres–thrillers, urban fantasy, poetry, humor and stuff we couldn’t identify but liked anyway. The energy was electric.); David Slonim’s inspiring banquet presentation enlightening us to the importance of nostrils. (“Nostrils” equals EMPATHY – connecting with your audience.) [Check our Photo Galleries!]
So much great advice… And wonderful interaction between faculty and attendees…

  • Patti Digh emphasizing that the strength to say “no” to others really means saying “yes” to yourself and your dreams.
  • Jane Friedman bringing us wit and wisdom on self-publishing and everything current in publishing.
  • Cathy Day constructing her fledgling novel before our eyes and asking us to do the same, whether using sticky notes and highlighters or laptops.

Truly, all participants will describe their MWW 2011 experience differently. You just had to be there. Because in the end, it’s the attendees, swooping in with their enthusiasm, talent and energy, who make MWW what it is. None of us wanted it to end. And, in a way, it goes on, as we incorporate what we learned into our writing over the coming months.

If you weren’t able to attend this year, we missed you! And we hope to see you for the 39th annual MWW in 2012. We can hardly wait!