“You CAN improve your writing skills,” says Angela Jackson-Brown

Meet award-winning author Angela Jackson-Brown

Angela Jackson-Brown is an award-winning writer, poet and playwright who teaches Creative Writing and English at Ball State University in Muncie, IN. She is a graduate of Troy University, Auburn University and the Spalding low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing. She has published her short fiction, Creative Nonfiction, and poetry in journals like The Louisville Journal and the Appalachian Review. She is author of Drinking From a Bitter Cup (WiDo Publishing, 2014), House Repairs (Negative Capability Press, 2018), and her latest novel, When Stars Rain Down, which will be published by Thomas Nelson, an imprint of HarperCollins, in the spring of 2021.

MWW board member and publicity chair, Leah Lederman, interviewed Angela about her writing and what she will present at MWW21.

MWW: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar?

AJB: A worker bee. I am a productive writer because I am a hardworking writer who, much like the worker bee, realizes being a writer isn’t, most times, a very glamourous job.

MWW: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

AJB: The first time I learned that language had power was when I wrote my first story. I saw the impact it had on the people I shared it with, especially my daddy. I realized then that storytellers have the ability to transport other people to another place, even if only for a short period of time.

MWW: What’s your favorite takeaway from the session you’ll be teaching?

AJB: Improving our writing skills can be taught. There are some aspects of writing that are innate and either the person has “It” or they don’t BUT so much of writing can be learned if we are willing and open vessels. THAT is the one thing I hope everyone walks away believing. They can improve their writing skills. They just have to be willing to put in the hours/days/weeks/months/years needed to elevate their skill set.

MWW: Why do you think this is important for writers to consider in their own work?

AJB: Writers need to know that writing is not just this mystical act that depends on some mysterious muse. Writing is back-breaking, sweat-inducing work. Every day, to be successful at being writers, we have to show up and put in the effort it takes to take our work to the next level. It is not for the faint of heart.

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

AJB: I primarily write historical fiction, so I am constantly weaving in the historical past into my fictional worlds. I can’t imagine writing without paying attention to what was happening when my novels are set. How do I write about politics in 1948 without mentioning Truman, Civil Rights and the Dixiecrats? Historical details are the bread and butter of any story, regardless of when it is set.

MWW: I’ve read Drinking from a Bitter Cup and can’t wait for When Stars Rain Down. In your writing, what are some themes that arise again and again?

AJB: Family relationships and spirituality almost always show up in my work. If a writer knows the intricacies of their characters’ relationships with other characters, then they have the tools to write a complex plot. Spirituality is something all of my characters grapple with because they, like us, are trying to figure out how they got here and what their purpose in life is going to be.

MWW: Do you deal with them differently in your separate works?

AJB: The outcomes are different but the strategies are the same in most of my work.

Register for Virtual MWW21 and meet Angela!

My First Jane Friedman Course

By Leah Lederman

Why You Need to Sign Up for Jane Friedman’s MWW One-Day, March 27, 2021

I met Ms. Friedman in person at a workshop held by the Indiana Writer’s Center at Marian University in 2019.

Now, I’ve come across celebrities. I once passed Steve Harvey at the Detroit Metro Airport baggage claim at 2 am. But at that moment in the college hallway, I understood the feeling people talk about when they describe meeting a major influence in their life.

(She might remember me as the cartoonish character wagging my tongue while she was trying to get her mojo in place before class. I took my seat, grateful I could stop my mouth-rattling and if she was too, she never let on.)

That workshop was “Getting Your Work Published” and it marked a turning point in my career as a writer. At that time, I’d had a short story collection published by small press and while I sensed that not all of my works-in-progress were best suited for the same trajectory, I didn’t know how to make an informed choice.

The slides were set and the microphone checked, Jane cleared her throat and said something like, “I’m about to school y’all.”

Okay, she didn’t say that. Memory is a funny thing. That’s what I remember, though. Because school me she did.

The presentation was chock full of sample pitches and bios, cover images, charts and graphs, do’s and don’ts, and insider tips. Ms. Friedman took questions from the class like she was rolling a basketball over her shoulders. Honestly, I’d never seen someone go Harlem Globe-trotters while discussing the publishing industry, but that’s the closest comparison I can make.

I sat in the car for a good ten minutes afterwards, a tuning fork still sounding from the information I’d ingested. Rarely outside of grad school had I encountered so much information so densely packed and tightly organized. Ms. Friedman’s talk covered everything from agents, queries, proposals, and comp titles, to book covers, editors, formatting, and distribution. Plus hybrid publishing!

I was familiar with or had working definitions of a lot of the material when I walked in (helped in no small part by www.janefriedman.com), but for so long I’d been drowning in these concepts—especially the varied advice I received about them. By the time I walked out of that room, Jane had given me a life vest, an inflatable raft, an oar, and a first-aid kit.

Naturally, I signed up for her free newsletter, “Electric Speed” (recently I added “The Hot Sheet”) and when 2020 came around, her consistent online course offerings were indispensable to my burgeoning author career. Ms. Friedman’s classes illuminated the nuts and bolts of the writing life: I learned about self-publishing, blogging strategies, working on my author website and managing my author platform. On top of that, top-notch guest lecturers like Allison Williams and Dinty Moore offered valuable insights into the process of memoir.

I’d like to say I’m Jane Friedman’s number one fan but there’s too many contenders and I try not to start fights (I’m barely five feet tall and out of shape). Instead of giving *myself* a title, I’ll simply say that Jane Friedman is a national treasure for writers, a strong supporter of Midwest Writers, and you should sign up for everything she’s putting out there. It will change the trajectory of your author career.

“When it’s time to publish your book,” Jane says, “remember that there is no such thing as a career-ending decision. While I want everyone to feel confident and informed about the publishing options available to them, the honest truth is that many writers end up in a publishing situation that isn’t quite what they imagined, or working with a publisher they’d never before considered. And sometimes the publisher (or agent) isn’t as all powerful or impressive as you once imagined! At some point in the process, you come to realize that much of your success rests on you and the qualities of the work you’ve been developing for years. This is ultimately for the best: you will partner with publishers or services as it suits you, and most writers will modify their path for each and every project. Simply put: You don’t rely on publishers for success.”

REGISTER TODAY!

In this masterclass with publishing industry expert Jane Friedman, you’ll learn not just the foundational principles of getting a book published, but gain up-to-date insight into the changing landscape of the publishing industry, and how you can navigate your own path toward success. You’ll discover what it takes to capture the attention of a New York publisher or literary agent (whether you write fiction or nonfiction) and how to determine if self-publishing, hybrid, or traditional publishing is the most appropriate path for your next project. Can’t attend the sessions live? No problem. MWW is offering archival video access for three months to ALL registered attendees.

Attend How to Get Published with Jane Friedman

MWW Virtual One-Day Conference with Jane Friedman

How to Get Published: Traditional, Self, and Everything in Between

Saturday, March 27, 2021

  • Morning Session (10:30 am – 12:00 pm EST) Traditional Publishing
  • Afternoon Session (1:30 pm – 3:00 pm EST) Self-publishing (and alternatives like hybrid publishing)
  • Cost: $79 early bird; $99 after February 28

In this masterclass with publishing industry expert Jane Friedman, you’ll learn not just the foundational principles of getting a book published, but gain up-to-date insight into the changing landscape of the publishing industry, and how you can navigate your own path toward success. You’ll discover what it takes to capture the attention of a New York publisher or literary agent (whether you write fiction or nonfiction) and how to determine if self-publishing, hybrid, or traditional publishing is the most appropriate path for your next project. Can’t attend the sessions live? No problem. MWW is offering archival video access for three months to ALL registered attendees.

This class will cover the following:

  • Querying like a pro. Your one-page query letter should be short and sweet and pack a punch. Learn what it means to sell your story, and how to avoid problems that plague (and sabotage) writers in this critical document.
  • Whether you need an agent—who they are and what they do. You’ll learn what the standard agenting practices are and why you might want one—and how to make sure you don’t get involved with a bad one.
  • Researching markets (agents and editors) for your work. We’ll look at the major tools and resources for identifying the right agent or publisher for you.
  • Explore traditional publishing options outside of New York. The world of independent publishers—including university presses, small presses, and regional presses—is vast and can sometimes be more challenging to understand than New York publishing, as they all operate a bit differently. Learn how to assess the strength and position of any book publisher.
  • How to decide if you or your book is well-suited to self-publishing—plus the major self-publishing services available, and how to choose the best channels, formats, and distributors based on your target audience and genre.
  • Learn how to decipher “hybrid” publishing arrangements now available alongside the key forms of self-publishing and e-publishing practiced today.

By the end of this class, you’ll have a game plan for getting your book to market in the most efficient and effective way, based on your skills and target readership.

REGISTER TODAY!

About Jane:

Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in business strategy for authors and publishers. She’s the editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential industry newsletter for authors, and has previously worked for F+W Media and the Virginia Quarterly Review. In 2019, Jane was awarded Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World; her newsletter was awarded Media Outlet of the Year in 2020.

Jane’s newest book is The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press); Publishers Weekly said that it is “destined to become a staple reference book for writers and those interested in publishing careers.” Also, in collaboration with The Authors Guild, she wrote The Authors Guild Guide to Self-Publishing.

In addition to being a professor with The Great Courses, Jane maintains an award-winning blog for writers at JaneFriedman.com; her expertise has been featured by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, NPR, PBS, CBS, the National Press Club and many other outlets.

Jane has delivered keynotes and workshops on the digital era of authorship at worldwide industry events, including the Writer’s Digest annual conference, Stockholm Writers Festival, San Miguel Writers Conference, The Muse & The Marketplace, Frankfurt Book Fair, BookExpo America, and Digital Book World. She’s also served on grant panels for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund, and has held positions as a professor of writing, media, and publishing at the University of Cincinnati and University of Virginia.

In her spare time, Jane writes creative nonfiction, which has been included in the anthologies Every Father’s Daughter and Drinking Diaries. If you look hard enough, you can also find her embarrassing college poetry.

 

Still time! Pitch fiction to Amy Stapp at Agent Fest!

Amy is one of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, November 18-21.

Amy Stapp received her BA from Samford University and MA from Georgia State University before beginning her publishing career at Macmillan, where she was an editor for seven years and had the privilege of working with numerous New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors. Amy joined Wolfson Literary in December 2018 and continues to actively build her list, with interest in women’s fiction, mystery, suspense, upmarket book club fiction, historical fiction, young adult, and select nonfiction. She is particularly drawn to a high concept hook, well-paced prose, immersive settings, and smart, multidimensional characters. As an editorial agent, she enjoys working hand-in-hand with authors to take their work to the next level. Find her online at wolfsonliterary.com.

Check out Amy’s Wish List!

  • Fiction: twisty, intelligent suspense, upmarket book club fiction, women’s fiction that explores friendships and multigenerational ties, light magical realism
  • Historical Fiction from a new perspective
  • Young Adult Fiction: fast-paced, “unputdownable” story with a mature voice in a variety of genres—romance, mystery, historical, and unique coming-of-age stories
  • Always looking for stories from underrepresented voices and in diverse settings

MWW agent assistant Kat Higgs-Coulthard interviewed Amy about how her experience as a former editor informs her process as an agent. Kat’s writing has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Jack & Jill, Cleaver, and Women on Writing. In her role as Director of Michiana Writers’ Center in South Bend, Indiana, Kat loves working with young writers through summer camps and writing conferences.

MWW: How does your experience as a former editor at Macmillan inform your work as an agent?

AS: That’s really what sets me apart from other agents. It is incredibly helpful for my clients to work with someone who is already familiar with what the next steps are in terms of the marketing, publicity, and what to expect from a publishing house.

I just have an editorial eye, so people who work with me tend to be people who are already very talented but want to take their work to the next level. I know exactly how hard it is to get something through an acquisition board. Being aware of that behind-the-scenes process allows me to set my authors up for long-term success.

MWW: You represent multiple genres. How do you feel about authors who write across genres or age categories, like for instance a YA novelist who also writes middle grade?

AS: It’s always good to diversify, but there are different schools of thought. Some people will tell you it’s difficult to build a following or to grow your readership if you are constantly jumping around, but that tends to be more once you already have a contract with a house. The publisher will have a specific strategy for trying to build your brand and grow your audience.

But it’s not at all uncommon for authors to write in multiple genres over the years. I will always tell a writer to write the story of your heart even if the story of your heart right now is some outlandish project that you know you can’t sell. Some writers call it your “through book.” You have to write your way through it before you can tackle the one that will become a bestseller. Try not to be so focused on writing something just because you think it will sell, when really you have a whole different project on your mind. When your heart isn’t in it, it shows in your writing. You have to write what’s on your heart.

MWW: What should writers do when their pitch results in a pass from the agent?

AS: I talk about this in Queries Do’s and Don’ts (Thurs., Nov. 19, 11am ET), so you should come to my session [laughs]. For a query rejection, the only thing you can do is keep writing the next book, keep perfecting your craft. For one-on-one pitches at conferences like this, I think one of my biggest pet peeves is when a writer will try to convince me why I’m wrong about their manuscript. That’s not a valuable use of either of our time. If I say this story isn’t the right fit for me, that doesn’t mean the conversation needs to end. How often are you sitting across from an agent? Make use of your time with me to ask me questions about publishing, to ask questions about your comps or how to improve your pitch, anything at all. I come to conferences to be helpful and useful to you in any way I can.

MWW: What should writers do when their pitch results in a request for pages?

AS: The number one mistake I see people make is submitting before they’re really ready. Hopefully you’ve already workshopped it with critique partners and through your writers’ circle. Just because someone at a conference says ‘this sounds like a great pitch, I’d love to see more,’ does not mean you have to send it tomorrow. It’s fine to take a few weeks, even a few months, so you can take the time to make your manuscript the best it can possibly be before sending it to an agent. There is no rush. Play the long game.

MWW: With all the reading you do for work, how do you find time to read for pleasure?

AS: I have a library app on my phone and I get audio books from the library. Any time I’m washing dishes, walking the dog, doing laundry, or whatever it is, I am constantly listening to the new bestseller to keep up-to-date on what’s popular in the genres I’m trying to sell at the moment. (And let me tell you, the best authors are doing that as well. If you’re not current on what’s selling in your genre, you’re probably not ready to start querying agents yet.) The book on my nightstand right now is And Now She’s Gone. It’s a thriller by Rachel Howzell Hall. She’s incredible; everyone should go buy her book. Next up on my TBR pile is Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. My tastes are pretty varied, from commercial bookclub favorites to upmarket women’s fiction, from lighthearted romcoms to dark and twisty thrillers, and everything in between.

There’s still time to register and pitch to Amy!

Pitch fiction & nonfiction to Jolene Haley at Agent Fest!

Jolene Haley is one of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, November 18-21.

Check out Jolene’s Wish List!

  • Broad range of MG and YA: especially contemporary, mystery, magical realism, romance, and horror.
  • Adult fiction: commercial women’s fiction, romance (all subgenres), mystery/crime, horror, and immersive literary fantasies.
  • Nonfiction: lifestyle, health, wellness, self-help, spiritualism, and true crime.

Jolene Haley joined the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency in 2020 and has been in the publishing industry since 2012. She has worked for literary agencies and publishers like The Bent Agency, Corvisiero Literary Agency, Entangled Publishing, and Swoon Romance, and has an extensive background in marketing. Her well-rounded experience provides a unique perspective and a solid foundation to support authors as they build their careers.

Jolene represents middle grade, young adult, and adult fiction. She is drawn to original concepts, compelling characters, and stories with plot twists that keep her guessing. In all genres, she welcomes diverse stories and characters that reflect the world we live in. She graduated with accolades from Cal State Fullerton with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Composition. She runs a global horror writer’s resource site The Midnight Society and is a member of ALA, HWA, and SCBWI. Follow Jolene on Twitter or Instagram.

MWW agent assistant Amanda Byk interviewed Jolene about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest. Amanda graduated from Ball State University with a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing. She is a copywriter for Dealer Inspire out of Naperville, IL. She enjoys writing historical fiction and nonfiction and hopes to return to school for a Masters in Fiction.

MWW: How did you become an agent?

JH: I always knew I wanted to work with books. I joined the publishing industry in 2012, while earning my English degree. I started as an assistant who worked across teams at Entangled Publishing. This experience led me to taking on new roles in marketing, editing, and publicity teams at different publishers. Working for publishers was fantastic, but I was drawn to agenting.

I joined The Bent Agency as an intern and worked my way up at agencies until I became an agent. In 2020, I joined my dream agency, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, as a literary agent. Working alongside fantastic agents like Kevan, Jill, Patricia, Shannon, and Deborah is a dream. I feel grateful to champion amazing authors and that my job is to help bring stories into the world!

MWW: What are a few tips you would give to writers? What are some tips you have for writers on approaching agents?

JH: My best tips for querying writers are simple.

  1. Polish your book. Send your work when it’s done and not a moment sooner. You want the agent to see your best work when you query. Research book length, nail down your genre, write a polished query, and ensure that your manuscript is free of typos and grammar issues. There are fabulous free resources online to guide first time queriers, and by submitting polished work, you’re automatically setting yourself apart from other submissions and giving yourself a competitive edge.
  2. Follow submission rules. Most agencies and agents share their submission guidelines. Please follow them, as they are the best way to ensure that your query is seen, considered, and responded to.
  3. Don’t give up! Querying can feel hard. Putting yourself out there can be scary. But the payoff is worth it when you find the perfect agent for you and your work. Every query pass is one step closer to your future offer of representation.

MWW: What kind of manuscript do you favor/what kind do you hate getting?

JH: On my website, visitors can find submission guidelines and my wish list. I do this to help writers decide if I am a good fit for their work and to share more about my reading preferences. I currently accept middle grade, young adult, and adult manuscripts. In these age categories, I’m seeking a wide variety of genres, but my current favorites are horror, thrillers, mysteries, and romance.

There is not a type of manuscript that I hate to receive, however my wish list shares the type of work that I am not a great fit for, such as high fantasy, military thrillers, and pandemic stories. No matter what, I read every query and consider each submission that I receive.

MWW: What questions should new authors ask during the first meeting with the literary agent?

JH: I firmly believe that when meeting with an offering literary agent, authors should ask anything that they want to know about the agency, the agent, their agenting style, and their vision for the manuscript. Don’t be shy! For example, a great question for an agent is to describe their agenting style. If you feel like it’s important to have an editorial agent, and the agent shares that they are not editorial, you may not be a good match.

Here are four great questions that might be helpful to know before you make your decision:

  1. How does the agent communicate with their authors?
  2. Will you be working with the agent directly or with another agent/assistant?
  3. What types of changes do you think need to be made for your book? What is their editorial vision?
  4. What are the next steps after signing?

I have additional resources on my website, under the Writing Resources tab.

MWW: At the Agent Fest, you have a presentation on Building Your Author Platform to Elevate Your Career. How important would you say an online presence is and why?

JH: In my opinion, it is critical for authors to have an online presence. When I say that, I don’t mean that you have to make 20 social media accounts and spend all day posting instead of writing.

What I mean is, one of the most effective ways an author can have an effective online presence is through a website. Readers, editors, and agents need a place that they can go to learn more about you. Visitors should be able to find your agent information, a media kit (author photo and biography, at least), and book information with buy links. Of course, there are additional ways to optimize your presence online, but a website is a great place to start.

Still time to register and pitch to Jolene!

Pitch fiction & nonfiction to Latoya Smith at Agent Fest Online!

Latoya is one of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, November 18-21.

Latoya C. Smith started her editorial career as an administrative assistant to New York Times bestselling author, Teri Woods at Teri Woods Publishing while pursuing her Bachelor’s degree at Temple University. She graduated Cum Laude from Temple in August of 2005. She then attained a full-time position at Kensington Publishing in March of 2006. In October 2006, Latoya joined Grand Central Publishing, an imprint at Hachette Book Group. For the span of her eight years there, Latoya acquired a variety of titles from hardcover fiction and nonfiction, to digital romance and erotica. She was featured in Publishers Weekly, Forbes and USA Today, as well as on various author, book conference, and book blogger websites. In early 2014, she appeared on CSpan2 where she contributed to a panel discussing the state of book publishing. From August 2014 to February 2016, Latoya was Executive Editor at Samhain Publishing where she acquired short and long-form romance and erotic fiction. She is the winner of the 2012 RWA Golden Apple for Editor of the Year, 2017 Golden Apple for Agent of the Year, and the 2017 Literary Jewels Award for Editor of the Year. Latoya provides editorial services and literary representation through her company, LCS Literary Services.

 

Check out Latoya’s Wish List!

  • Fiction: women’s fiction, humor, thriller/suspense, romance (contemporary, paranormal, small-town, suspense, erotic, LGBTQ), young adult
  • Nonfiction: memoir, relationship, advice/how-to, self-help, business, sports, politics/social justice, pop culture, health/wellness

MWW agent assistant Allen Warren interviewed Latoya about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest. Allen is an English Studies major at Ball State University. He is also managing editor for the Digital Literature Review and assistant fiction editor & event/writing series coordinator for Ball State’s literary magazine The Broken Plate.

MWW: What got you interested in becoming a literary agent? 

LS: I worked as an acquisitions editor for over 10 years and was laid off from my job. Based on my contacts, a really good friend thought I’d make a great agent. So, I joined her agency in 2016. I later began agenting for my own company in 2018.

MWW: Who have been some of your more recent clients, and how did you promote them? 

LS: Kimberly L. Jones, Kondwani Fidel, Kristin Vayden and LaQuette to name a few. In regards to promotion, I speak about my clients whenever I can at whatever stage of the process they are in. For example, if a client is in early development, I’ll bring up their concepts as I speak to editors to try and garner early interest. Once sold, I am actively promoting them and their projects on my social media and at conferences and events, by spreading the word and offering my help and support however I can.

MWW: What are the number-one things you recommend attendees pitching ideas to do and NOT to do? 

LS: Be passionate, confident and practice so that you won’t feel as nervous because you know your stuff. However, try not to waste your time making light conversation. You’ll lose valuable time like that. Instead, begin with your greeting and move right into your pitch so that you can leave room for questions at the end.

MWW: What makes a manuscript stand out to you? What will make it sink? 

LS: Strong first pages, with a clear sense of who these characters are and why I should care about them. If the project is riddled with typos, confusing, or just uninteresting, I will stop reading.

MWW: Finally, what have you been reading during quarantine? 

LS: Romance and women’s fiction along with some thrillers.

Also on Latoya’s schedule for Agent Fest Online:

  • First Page Read – Love It or Leave It, “Okay, Stop” – with Latoya Smith, Alice Speilburg, Shannon Kelly. This is a chance to get your first page read (anonymously — no bylines given) with our attending agents/editors commenting on what was liked or not liked about the submission. Get expert feedback on your incredibly important first lines and know if your writing has what it needs to keep readers’ attention.
  • Working With An Agent: Writers will learn the tools needed to successfully partner with the right agent. This includes:  Preparing Your Written and Verbal Pitch.  Finding the Right Agent.  What Your Agent Should Bring to the Table.  How You Should Use Your Agent.  Building Your Platform. When to Part Ways With Your Agent.
  • You’ve Got A Book Deal, Now What?: Writers will learn what happens after they’ve been offered a deal (per traditional publisher standards). This includes: Contract Negotiation Points.  Welcome Materials from Your Publisher. The Editorial Process.  Importance of Cover Art and Cover Copy. Publicity and Marketing Strategies. Sales and Distribution. Useful Tips.
  • Agents/Author Conversation: How an agent works with an author — Agents Cherry Weiner and Latoya Smith and author Larry D. Sweazy

Join us for a Facebook Live “Conversation with John Gilstrap”

Midwest Writers Workshop presents another installment of our “Conversation with an Author” series.

Join us for a Facebook Live on Friday, October 23, from 4:00 pm ET to 5:00 pm for a Conversation with MWW fave John GilstrapNew York Times bestselling author of the Jonathan Grave thriller series. John will chat with MWW director Jama Kehoe Bigger about his new series (The Crimson Phoenix), creativity, the writing process, revising, and the writing life.

Here’s the Zoom link.

John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of 23 thrillers (including the Jonathan Grave series), and a new series, the first of which, CRIMSON PHOENIX will be released in February 2021. The Crimson Phoenix series takes his work in an entirely new direction: in it, World War III lasts about eight hours, and when it’s done, the United States is left in ruins. With all the infrastructure gone, and elected leaders unable to communicate with people outside of the bunkers that protected official Washington, it falls to individual citizens to figure out a way to continue living. It doesn’t take long for the weak to turn feral. In one corner of West Virginia, though, a single mom named Victoria Emerson turns out to be the leader that everyone’s been looking for.

“I write thrillers about normal people who get caught up in extraordinary circumstances” Gilstrap says. “I write about fathers and mothers and children who somehow find the will and the wherewithal to suck up the panic and fight on. They’re heroic, but they would never consider themselves to be heroes. Mostly, they would consider themselves to be survivors.”

Subscribe to John’s YouTube Channel
Like him on Facebook
Follow him on Twitter

 

Join us on Friday, Oct 23rd at 4pm ET for this fun discussion!

 

Conversation with author Lara Ehrlich

Midwest Writers Workshop presents another installment of our “Conversation with an Author” series. MWW board member Lylanne Musselman talked with MWW alum Lara Ehrlich about her newly released book, her writing life and her MWW experience.

Lara Ehrlich’s work been published in literary magazines, including F(r)iction, Hunger Mountain, and StoryQuarterly, and has been recognized with many awards and fellowships; most recently, Animal Wife received Red Hen Press’s Fiction Award, judged by New York Times-bestselling author, Ann Hood, who called the collection “sensual and intelligent, with gorgeous prose.” Animal Wife, which launched in Sept 2020, has been praised as “remarkable” by Lit Hub, who said “the collection is a standout in a season full of amazing new releases.” Lara lives in Connecticut with her husband and daughter.

Lara Ehrlich is also a former Midwest Writers Workshop Retreat Fellow. Here’s Lylanne’s interview with Lara:

MWW: Tell me a little about your new book, Animal Wife – how did it come about? Are the stories in it what you normally write?

LEAnimal Wife is a collection of stories about women’s transformations, from girls into wives, mothers, and monsters. Winner of the Red Hen Press Fiction Award, judged by Ann Hood, Animal Wife was on shelves September 8, 2020. It’s available now at RedHen.org, Bookshop.org, and Amazon.com.

Animal Wife originated with the titular story in the collection, about a girl who undertakes a quest for the mother who abandoned her. I started this story as a novel and after writing hundreds of pages, realized it was actually meant to be a short story! This is where I rediscovered my love of writing short stories, how time and emotion can be compressed into a tight space that exerts pressure on every sentence. I love the intensity of short stories, and how they can sustain an off-kilter voice or a wild conceit that might sag in a longer piece.

The next few stories are also about girls and young women, tapping into the urgency and uneasiness of puberty. As I began writing toward a collection, the stories began to change, to move away from girls and toward mothers. During this time, I was questioning whether I wanted to have a family. I was terrified of the self-abdication that I believed motherhood necessitated. I was going to create Important Work, and I couldn’t afford the distraction. I believed that the right way to be a mother was to devote all of myself to my child, while the right way to be a writer was to toil in isolation, unfettered by the needs of others.

I wrote the majority of the stories in Animal Wife while agonizing over this decision, then while pregnant, so those stories are often worst-case scenarios, nightmares, terrors about motherhood. I wrote the last few stories during those first few months of motherhood that I can barely remember because they were so intensely exhausting. Writing has become not only a calling and a career, but my way of keeping hold of myself and avoiding the self-abdication I’d so feared.

Throughout Animal Wife, readers will be able to see my preoccupations and priorities shifting—and with them, my voice. Now, I could no longer write the stories that open this collection.

MWW: What writers do you feel have influenced you?

LE: In elementary school, my obsession with Edgar Allen Poe inspired me to write stories about crazy murderers. Ray Bradbury sparked a science fiction period. In college, I read James Joyce, Nabokov, and Faulkner, and became longwinded. In graduate school, Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, and Oscar Wilde injected some whimsy into my longwinded prose.

One thing all of these writers have in common: they’re men. And I was writing about men. Writing about women seemed dangerous somehow, too autobiographical. Reading other women was revelatory. When I began writing about women, writing from that place of danger, my stories changed. They became spare and, although they no longer feature murderous crazy people, more daring.

The writers who inspire me now are risk-taking women who cross boundaries, tackle uncomfortable themes, plunge into dark places. Women like Angela Carter, Kelly Link, Katherine Dunn, Elena Ferrante, Maggie Nelson, Karen Russell, Kristen Arnett, Aimee Bender…I could go on!

MWW: Do you have any writing rituals?

LE: I have a 4-year-old daughter and work full time as the director of marketing for the International Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven, CT. Before I had a child, I had writing rituals: I’d write every day before work and on my lunch break—but those sacred times have been filled with other responsibilities, and I struggle to find time for sustained work. I force writing into the cracks of my schedule wherever I can.

This is more of a practical habit than a ritual, but I have a long commute and often use the time to work on my novel by dictating to myself using my phone’s recording app (In fact, I’m dictating this right now!). I upload the recording to the (free) Otter transcription app, which does a passable job of transcribing my monologue. While my toddler is eating dinner, I clean up the transcription and end up with 3,000 words on a good day. Those 3,000 words need a ton of work, but starting from there instead of with a blank page has been really helpful for my productivity. It’s the only way I was able to draft my novel-in-progress.

MWW: You are an MWW Alum. How did you originally find the workshop? How often did you attend?

LE: The 2009 Workshop was my first conference! I originally found the workshop through a scholarship promoted in Poets & Writers magazine. A year later, I attended the Midwest Writers Workshop Fellows Retreat, which was my first retreat.

MWW: How did attending MWW affect your career?

LE: I’ve wanted to write a book since fourth grade, when I composed a fantasy epic (in an etched leather journal) that was really just a description of the movie Willow. I went on to fill dozens of notebooks with stories and bits of novels and scenes. Although publishing a book was my ultimate goal, completing and selling a manuscript seemed utterly mysterious and out of reach. I attended MWW with about 20 pages of a novel and zero knowledge of the publishing industry, open to learning everything I could.

I was nowhere near ready to query agents yet, but I took advantage of a pitch session with an agent who encouraged me to stick with my novel, gave me some pointers on the query letter I’d drafted, and invited me to send her the book when I was ready. That one actionable goal—send this person my book—helped me begin to demystify the publishing process and break it down into other actionable steps that seemed attainable when tackled one at a time.

During that same conference, I clicked with two other Chicago writers who were working on their first novels, and we formed a critique group. We continued to meet for years, supporting one another through drafting and revising our work, querying agents, and eventual publication.

MWW is equally devoted to helping writers develop their craft, and I found many of those sessions to be valuable—but at that moment in my fledgling career, MWW helped me to understand the business side of writing. That is what I needed to be able to take my writing seriously not just as a craft, but as a career.

MWW: Thinking about the sessions you attended, what is one session that really stands out to you (more if you want to mention them)?

LE: Among the many excellent programs that I attended on writing vivid settings, querying agents, and developing intriguing characters, the session that stands out to me most was about tax preparation. This, from someone who struggled so mightily to learn the difference between addition and subtraction that when I finally got it down, my first-grade teacher sent home a congratulatory note.

Until MWW, I hadn’t realized that I could deduct the writing expenses I was racking up—from the MWW conference fee, to a portion of my rent, to my office supplies. As much as I still detest math, tracking my writing expenses made the business side of my career more tangible; while I couldn’t quantify my effort, I could quantify my monetary investment in my writing, which elevated what I was doing from amorphous labor to real work.

MWW: If you were ever to lead a session at MWW (and we hope you will!), what might be something you’d like to instruct writers on?

LE: At this moment in my life and career, I’m particularly interested in working with other parent-writers (specifically, but not limited to, mothers) to prioritize their writing. I’m forever asking other parent-writers how they manage to create art while cleaning up after little people, imagining that there must be a secret I just haven’t discovered yet. How does everyone else seem to have their lives together, to be producing exceptional work, to have well-adjusted children? Every parent-writer I’ve asked has laughed and said, “My life is a shit show.” (Often literally. So. Much. Poop.) I’d like to lead a session for other writers who struggle with this balancing act to see if we can come up with strategies together.

MWW: Can you share what you’re working on now?

LE: The stories in Animal Wife are about girls and women seeking liberation from family responsibilities and societal expectations; my novel-in-progress is a more in-depth exploration of these themes, framed by a loose retelling of “The Little Mermaid.” A restless siren-turned-human who takes over a failing mermaid burlesque. She establishes a kingdom in the likeness of her lost world and lives as a siren, performing in a tank at the edge of the sea. At its heart, the book is about the dark underbelly of fantasy, the need for escape and transformation, which in the end is disappointing—and often destructive.

A fun note: As part of my research, I attended the Sirens of the Deep Mermaid Camp at Weeki Wachee State Park in Weeki Wachee, Florida, where women have performed as mermaids since 1947. During the two-day camp, my fellow campers and I were trained by mermaids—called Legendary Sirens—who had performed at Weeki Wachee in its golden age. My essay about Siren Camp is forthcoming in Lit Hub.

MWW: What is some advice you would give to novice attendees, or even to those who are wanting to attend…but feel they’re not ready?

LE: As I mentioned before, I was a total novice when I attended my first MWW conference. I was so overwhelmed when I arrived that I bought a box of cereal and a bottle of wine at Walmart and hid in my hotel room watching a truly terrible Jennifer Love Hewitt movie on cable. When I finally made it to the conference center, I was relieved to find that the staff and instructors were supportive and welcoming—and the other writers were as overwhelmed as I was! From there, MWW was a transformative experience, so I would advise novice writers just to go and be open to feeling overwhelmed. You’ll never really feel ready, so you might as well just go for it.

Learn more about Lara at LaraEhrlich.com and join her newsletter for writing updates here!

Join us: MWW + Finish Strong for 2020

What a year 2020 has been, right?!

We’re heading into the last three months of the year. How does that make you feel? Are you where you want to be with your writing goals?

It’s a good time to dust off your writing goals for 2020 and see how you’re doing. Even in the midst of this pandemic year, what have you achieved that was on your list? In what ways have you exceeded your goals?

Have you fallen behind in some areas?

No matter where you are with your goals right now, the #1 way to finish the year strong is to Decide to Do It. Make a decision.

As the holidays approach, it will be easy to get caught up in everything except writing. Sometimes, we just assume that we won’t get much done at this time of year. But what if you decided this year will be different? You’re still going to enjoy your holidays, and you’re going to carve out some time for writing.

We can help you  carry out your goals during this time of hustle and bustle by giving you accountability partners.

That’s why MWW wants you to join our private Facebook group, Finish Strong. It works like this. You decide what you want to accomplish by the end of the year. Are you going to go for it with NaNoWriMo (write a novel in the month of November)? Is a book list calling to you that will make your writing stronger?

Whatever it is that you want to accomplish, let’s help one another get there.

We’ll post some inspirational information at least once a week, to help you keep on track. If you want to share your goals, that’s fine. If you want to share what is working for you, others may benefit. Those who have questions on how to achieve their goals will be able to ask the group and see if someone can help. To be honest, this event will take shape based on who signs up and how they are able to participate (or not participate, if they only want to read the official posts).

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again; one of MWW’s greatest assets is its talented participants. Here’s another virtual opportunity to stay connected during this wild and crazy year. Feel free to share with your friends. Anyone can register.

All you need to do is sign up. Imagine how great you will feel when 2021 rolls in if you Made the Decision to Finish Strong for 2020.

You are not alone in this writing journey.

Register HERE for Finish Strong for 2020.

Join us for a Facebook Live “Conversation with Annie Sullivan”

We love it. Yes, MWW loves when writers succeed. When they leave our conferences crafting better sentences, improving clever plots, developing stronger characters. When they leave with friendships and a community of writing supporters and encouragers.

Yes, MWW loves to celebrate writers.

And now it’s Annie Sullivan we celebrate!

Join us for a Facebook Live on Wednesday, September 23, from 7:00 pm ET to 8:00 pm for a Conversation with Annie Sullivan, as MWW congratulates her on the release of her third young adult novel, A Curse of Gold.

MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger will interview Annie about her sequel to A Touch of Gold, about plotting, about editing, about MWW, and about all things writing.

Hear about curses and queens. Pirates and kings. Gods and magic. Hear about the final saga of a princess cursed by Midas’s touch, a vengeful Greek god, and a dazzling kingdom in the balance.

Annie Sullivan is the author of the young adult novels A Touch of Gold, Tiger Queen, and A Curse of Gold. She lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, and she loves fairytales, everything Jane Austen, and traveling and exploring new cultures. When she’s not off on her own adventures, she’s working as the Senior Copywriter at John Wiley and Sons, Inc. publishing company, having also worked there in Editorial and Publicity roles. She loves to hear from fans, and you can reach her via the contact form on this website or on Twitter and Instagram (@annsulliva).