Claire Harris: agent with a passion for a wide range of fiction and nonfiction

Meet Claire! One of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, October 13-16.

Claire Harris is a literary agent with a passion for a wide range of fiction and nonfiction for adults. She got her start through the NYU Summer Publishing Institute and worked at a mid-sized agency before joining the P.S. Literary team. Claire seeks projects with unique voices, interesting writing styles, and compelling characters. She enjoys the creative process of working with creators and collaborating closely with them throughout all stages of their careers. Having grown up in Wisconsin, she has a soft spot for stories set in the Midwest.

Wish List:

Claire is acquiring both fiction and nonfiction projects for adults. She’s actively seeking diverse voices and unique perspectives in all acquisitions. In fiction, she’s looking for adult rom-coms, psychological and commercial thrillers, works of fiction inspired by actual crimes, mystery, suspense, cozies, and contemporary fiction (especially family dramas). Claire is a lover of both the dark and twisted and the light and heartwarming. For nonfiction, Claire is seeking a range of projects, including lifestyle guides, pop culture celebrations, pop psychology, humor, true crime, cultural criticism, gift books, and illustrated books for adults.

Claire will present the session “So you’ve signed with an agent – now what?” She is also a member of the Query Letter Critique Team, which offers (for an additional fee) the opportunity to meet for a 10-minute one-on-one consultation to discuss your query letter AND the first page of your manuscript.

Check out the full faculty!

Check out the full schedule!

MWW: What character types or plots do you feel are overrepresented, or that you’re just tired of seeing?

CH: My main thing is that if it’s a “tired” trope or character or plot point, you need to have a fresh take. Maybe it’s your writing style. Maybe it’s a unique POV. Maybe it’s a trope that you flipped on its head. There’s not a lot that I’m truly “tired of seeing,” as long as there’s a little something new that makes it stand out from other books in the same genre.

MWW: Any tips on what a person can do to make an impression during a pitch session?

CH: Be prepared and know how to concisely pitch your book. I would say that practice makes perfect, but don’t just sit down with an agent and blurt out a memorized script. Try to leave a little room for flexibility and conversation. Make a bulleted list of points you want to hit, but don’t read through a script—be natural. My favorite part of speaking with authors during a pitch session is getting a sense of who they are in addition to hearing about their book. It’s okay (actually preferable) to leave an impression, and for me, those impressions are generally made by being personable and yourself—and not being too nervous! We agents are people, too. Keep that in mind.

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

CH: My favorite question to answer (and one that I think is incredibly telling and important) is, “what’s your agenting/communication style?” If you’re the kind of author who needs weekly check-ins but the offering agent makes it clear they are more hands off, you need to give some thought to that. It can still work if you’re both willing to be open and work with each other to find a happy medium, but that’s a major one. Another is to ask about any edits they might want you to make to the manuscript, which can show you how they’re thinking about positioning the book, etc. I’m also always prepared to talk to the author about their career goals, so while this is something most agents will bring up, it’s important to discuss (and you should feel free to start that discussion if the offering agent doesn’t). There are so many more, but those are three that I think are key.

MWW: What’s the most exciting part about working with a new author on an accepted project? 

CH: For me, one of the best parts of my job is getting a project ready for submission. I absolutely love editing, writing pitch letters, creating sub lists, and calling editors to build the hype. The actual best part, though, is being able to call your author and let them know you have an offer on the table. Those are my favorite calls in the world, and little else brings me as much joy. (A close second would be calling the editor to let them know we’re accepting the offer.)

MWW: What’s the biggest takeaways you want attendees to take home from your Agent Fest session?

CH: I would love for people to walk away from my Agent Fest session realizing that getting an agent is an important first step, but it’s nowhere near the end of the journey. There’s a long road ahead of them, and I hope I can help writers know what’s coming and maybe even a few key questions to ask along the way.

Register for Agent Fest Online and pitch your project to Claire!

Agent Dani Segelbaum seeking authors from diverse backgrounds

Dani is one of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, October 13-16.

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Dani is a graduate of Boston University’s College of Communication, where she studied journalism and political science. She has been a voracious reader for as long as she can remember. Dani began her publishing career as an editorial assistant at HarperCollins Publishers, focusing primarily on highly designed nonfiction titles. She currently works as a literary agent at the Carol Mann Agency.

Wish List:

Dani hopes to work with authors from diverse backgrounds to tell stories that are important to them. Her typical preferences include literary and contemporary fiction, memoir, narrative nonfiction, and popular culture. Find out more by following her on Twitter.

Dani will present the session “The Do’s and Don’ts of Querying Agents.” She is also a member of the Query Letter Critique Team, which offers (for an additional fee) the opportunity to meet for a 10-minute one-on-one consultation to discuss your query letter AND the first page of your manuscript.

MWW: How often do you get a pitch that you later wish you had accepted, or you wish they’d pitched again after revising. Do you have any insight as to how they could have better pitched their work?

DS: I always want authors to pitch me again after they’ve revised! It shows that they are willing to put in the work and are dedicated to the story. A tip I always suggest to writers is make sure to add comp titles to your query letters.

MWW: What do you hope for when tackling the slush pile? What are you tired of seeing?  

DS: I always hope to find a query letter that completely captures my attention. I’m lucky that I’ve found some incredible manuscripts in the slush pile. I’d also love to see more authors from diverse backgrounds tell their stories. I don’t typically represent sci-fi or fantasy stories, so I’m not the best agent to query for those genres.

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

DS: I am so excited for Hanya Yanagihara’s third novel, To Paradise.

MWW: What’s your favorite book, or favorite kind of book to read?

DS: I truly love reading a variety of stories. A fun rom-com, a mesmerizing memoir, or a fantastic cookbook. I love them all!

MWW: What’s the primary message you want attendees to take home from your Agent Fest session?

DS: Getting a book published is not an easy journey. Authors that are smart, dedicated, and passionate about their writing always stand out.

Register for Agent Fest Online and pitch your project to Dani!

Pitch your nonfiction to agent Rita Rosenkranz

Meet literary agent Rita Rosenkranz

Rita is one of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, October 13-16.

A former editor with major New York houses, Rita Rosenkranz founded Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency in 1990. Her wide-ranging adult nonfiction list stretches from the decorative to the dark. She represents health, history, parenting, music, how-to, popular science, business, biography, popular reference, cooking, spirituality, sports and general interest titles. Rita works with major publishing houses, as well as regional publishers that handle niche markets. She looks for projects that present familiar subjects freshly or lesser-known subjects presented commercially.  www.ritarosenkranzliteraryagency.com

Rita will present the session “All About the Author/Agent Relationship. She is also a member of the Query Letter Critique Team, which offers (for an additional fee) the opportunity to meet for a 10-minute one-on-one consultation to discuss your query letter AND the first page of your manuscript.

MWW: What are the most important elements of a proposal a writer submits to you? 

RR: I look to determine that the author is well-paired with the topic, so I won’t have to argue why this writer is working on this particular project, and also that the work fills an obvious gap among the list of comparable titles. Ideally, the project will further the conversation on a topic we thought we knew.

MWW: What led you to your current wish list? Has it changed, ever? 

RR: My wish list is always evolving. Even though I’m not riding trends hyper-consciously, when a category is saturated it’s time to sit it out for a while. And when it’s clear editors are hungry for a particular category, it’s lovely if I’m working with an author whose work applies. But mostly I’m attracted to projects that aren’t in and out of fashion.

MWW: Because you’re primarily interested in nonfiction, what do you think makes a nonfiction work masterful? 

RR: It’s obvious when an author has a command of a subject, offering insight and an articulated perspective that helps educate us or even reframe our thinking. Those works stand out. They’re pulse-quickening.

MWW: How do you recommend getting over “pitch anxiety”? 

RR: I understand the nervousness. Authors think they have one shot, and if they don’t connect effectively, they’ve missed out. But, obviously, agents are humans, too. And the author invariably has talked a lot about their work to many others, in effect, rehearsing the pitch. We are another listener, leaning in, hoping to connect to something brilliant and saleable.

MWW: What’s the primary message you want attendees to take home from your Agent Fest session?

RR: Agents who are reaching out to authors at a writers’ conference are by definition looking for projects. We are open to hearing about your passion for your work, and how it will be of interest to readers. The most successful authors (this applies to agents, too), persevere to find a place they can call home. Keep searching until you find your home.

 

Register for Agent Fest Online and pitch your nonfiction project to Rita!

Join us! MWW Agent Fest Online 2021

Join us for MWW Agent Fest Online 2021: October 13-16, 2021, Wednesday 10:00 am, ET through Saturday 5:00 pm, ET. 
Our first virtual 2020 MWW Agent Fest was a big success! What attendees said:
  • This was the best conference I’ve attended. The quality of the speakers and MWW Staff could not be better! I left the conference with renewed vigor and with the validation that I am not alone in this writing life!
  • These knowledgeable professionals gave me tips and up-to-date advice that would have taken years to learn, if ever. With each pitch I become more confident and gained a better understanding of what agents are looking for. I was able to mold my pitch in a way that highlighted those things. These agents weren’t afraid to be honest. The knowledge they imparted to be was priceless.
  • The absolute best aspect of these events is getting to talk to agents informally in a non-threatening environment knowing they are here to help. I cannot convey that enough. As an unpublished author, we need a level of validation that we are not crazy for pursuing our passion and our dreams. Their immediate feedback is appreciated.
  • It was a fantastic experience all the way around. My only regret is that I didn’t get over my anxiety and jump in sooner. The practice pitch sessions seemed to be a real treasure trove of input. The agents were really engaged, brimming with good advice and helpful honesty. First page read was a precious chance to peek into the mind of agents. I am astounded at how much I learned thanks to this conference.

Again, this year’s Midwest Writers Workshop Agent Fest will be held online (using video conference technology). We have designed an online version of MWW Agent Fest that offers opportunities to pitch, plenty of instruction, networking, and the sense of community that makes MWW so special.

Here’s an opportunity to pitch your book directly to agents in search of new voices! Connect with literary agents who are actively searching for the next big thing across all genres including fiction, nonfiction, young adult and more. During the Agent Fest Online 2021, you’ll have a chance to meet agents one-on-one and capture their attention with the basic concept of your book. We’ve assembled a dynamic roster of top-tier agents to participate in our Agent Fest Online 2021. We have four days of valuable sessions; no matter what you’re writing – fiction or nonfiction – the sessions will help point you in the right direction. Writers of all genres are welcome.

Our online conference features:
  • Agent Fest Online 2021 features a remarkable faculty and attendees can select three to pitch to.
  • From October 13-16, via Zoom video conferencing, sessions with a variety of content from agents and editors that feature lectures with vital, informative, and enjoyable discussions to build your skills as a writer.
  • Private Facebook Group for camaraderie and to build connections with other attendees and faculty.
  • Can’t attend all the sessions live? No problem. MWW Agent Fest Online 2021 offers archival video access to ALL attendees for ALL sessions and the content from other faculty members, allowing you to audit other sessions at your convenience during Agent Fest Online 2021 and for the following four weeks.
We also have a Query Letter Critique Team – an opportunity for a one-on-one consultation!
Our faculty includes: (Read their bios & wish lists)
  • Savannah Brooks, Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency
  • Claire Harris, P.S. Literary
  • Mina Hamedi, Janklow & Nesbit Associates
  • Amanda Orozco, Transatlantic Agency
  • Jeff Ourvan, Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency
  • Regina Ryan, Regina Ryan Books
  • Rita Rosenkranz, Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency
  • Dani Segelbaum, Carol Mann Agency
  • Loan Le, editor, Simon & Schuster
You’ll meet one-on-one (via Zoom) with three agents. Each pitch lasts eight minutes, composed of a 4-minute pitch and a 4-minute response/discussion from the agent with feedback.
You Will Get:
  • Immediate feedback on the merits of your book directly from agents working in that genre or category.
  • Actionable advice on perfecting your pitch, and/or ways to improve your storyline or nonfiction premise.
  • The opportunity to land representation and start on your path to a publishing deal.
Keys to Agent Fest Success:
  • Do your research. There are eight agents and one editor attending and some will be a better fit for your writing than others. Be sure to study the list of faculty and target those who handle your genre or interest.
  • Practice makes perfect. We’re offering practice sessions each morning. Join in! This is your chance to sell your book, so write it out, practice it and perfect your pitch.
  • Get expert advice. To help you prepare, we have Zoom sessions with willing volunteers where you can practice. You can hone your pitch and get more comfortable with presenting live. You’ll also gain the confidence you need to make a great impression.
  • Read this blog post by our MWW friend Jane Friedman – How to Pitch Agents at a Writers Conference
By Saturday afternoon, you will have added more tools to help you move forward on your writing journey.
Secure your spot today. 

Click here to register!

Writing essays is all about the process of discovery

Silas Hansen’s essays have appeared in Colorado Review, Slate, Catapult, The Normal School, Hobart, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and elsewhere. He is the nonfiction editor of Waxwing and directs the creative writing program at Ball State University.

MWW board member and publicity chair, Leah Lederman, has interviewed the faculty for MWW21. Today, meet essayist Silas Hansen who discusses his writing and what he will present at our virtual summer conference.

Silas’s MWW21 sessions:

  • “Embracing the Tangent: the Art of Meandering in Personal Essays”
  • Panel: “Pathway to Publication” Jessica Strawser, Chadwick Gillenwater, Pam Mandel, Silas Hansen Moderator: Angela Jackson-Brown

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

SH: I’ve described writing nonfiction before as putting together a jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box as a guide: I have all of the pieces, but I’m not sure how they fit together until I sit down and actually try placing each of the pieces side by side. I find this both immensely satisfying and incredibly frustrating—I love figuring out how two things work in juxtaposition (e.g., a scene from my childhood blended with research about something that was happening in the news at the time), but it can also be a long process of trial-and-error to get to that moment of realization.

It has helped me to remember that the process of getting there is the whole point of the essay. I also save the “errors” (the pieces that don’t fit) for future essays, which takes some of the pressure off: it never feels like wasted time, even if it ultimately doesn’t fit into the essay I’m working on at the moment.

MWW: What kind of research do you do for your writing, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book or an essay? 

SH: I can easily become obsessed with new ideas and concepts, so I have to be careful with my research: I can get so caught up in researching that I never actually put my own words on the page. Instead, I need specific questions to keep me focused. I often write first (often several thousand words, even for a single essay), then do the research once I know more about what I’m trying to say.

What kind of research I do depends on the essay. I often write essays about my own life and experiences, so my research tends to be more informal and personal. Recently, for example, I sorted through several boxes of family photos/scrapbooks from as far back as the 1890s and asked my 96-year-old grandmother about what I’d found. Sometimes research means asking friends and family about an experience that we had together so that I can compare our memories, or looking through my own yearbooks, photos, scrapbooks, etc.

MWW: What have you learned about revising over the course of your career as an author? 

SH: The most important thing I’ve learned about revision is to always save each version of the essay separately—clearly labeled—so I can go back to it. This gives me the freedom to take bigger risks. I know I can always go back to a previous version if my new weird idea doesn’t work. I’m a big fan of drastic revision: What would happen if I took this very straightforward essay and tried re-writing it as if it were a final exam? What if it was a letter? What would happen if I re-wrote the entire thing in second person?—so I’ll often have six or eight different versions of the same essay saved. Similarly, I never fully delete anything from an essay—if I’m cutting more than a few sentences, I save it into a separate Word document, as it might be the start of something else.

My advice is to give yourself permission to take big risks in revision and to figure out what you need to do to make taking those risks feel “safe.”

MWW: In To Show and To Tell, Phillip Lopate wrote “Good writers are always trying to write above their heads, to hit on understandings beyond their conscious knowledge, through fortuitous word choice.” Can you think of a time when your writing revealed something to you that you hadn’t clearly understood until you’d come to write about it? 

SH: This happens all of the time in my essays—it’s hard to think of a specific example! For me, writing essays is all about the process of discovery. I’m always starting with something that I’m uncertain about: maybe a question, maybe a memory that’s stuck in my head and I’m trying to figure out why, or maybe it’s an idea or a concept that I feel ambivalent toward. My essays are basically the travel log of where my mind went to figure it out. I’m often discovering something else—what the question means, why I’m asking it in the first place, what the answer might mean for me—along the way, even if I don’t ultimately find an answer.

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

SH: Probably my cat: I do my best writing at night, am very productive in short bursts, and enjoy a nice afternoon nap.

Register for Virtual MWW21 and meet Silas!

All writers can benefit from studying poetry

Allison Joseph directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Southern Illinois University. She is the author of many books and chapbooks of poetry, including Lexicon (Red Hen Press), Professional Happiness (Backbone Press), The Last Human Heart (Diode Editions), and Smart Pretender (Finishing Line Press). Her latest full-length book of poetry, Confessions of a Barefaced Woman, was published by Red Hen Press in 2018. It was chosen as the Gold/First Place Winner in the poetry category of the 2019 Feathered Quill Book Awards. She is the widow of the late poet and editor Jon Tribble, to whom Professional Happiness is dedicated.

Born in London, England to parents of Caribbean heritage, Allison Joseph grew up in Toronto, Canada, and the Bronx, New York. A graduate of Kenyon College and Indiana University, she serves as poetry editor of Crab Orchard Review, the publisher of No Chair Press, and the director of Writers In Common, a writing conference for writers of all ages and experience levels. In 2014, she was awarded a Doctor of Letters honorary degree from her undergraduate alma mater, Kenyon College.

MWW board member and publicity chair, Leah Lederman, has interviewed the faculty for MWW21. Today, meet post Allison Joseph who discusses her writing and what she will present at our virtual summer conference.

Allison’s MWW21 sessions:

  • “Beginnings and Endings: How Poets Can Sing At Both/Poetry as Meditative Practice”
  • Panel: “To Agent or Not to Agent” — Angela Jackson-Brown, Pam Mandel, Dirk Manning, Allison Joseph

MWW: What are your favorite literary journals?

AJCrab Orchard Review, of course—the magazine I helped to found with Jon Tribble, my beloved late husband. It’s been hard coming back from his death, but we are reading submissions again and looking forward to publishing new issues. Other than Crab Orchard, I have always been a fan of Ploughshares, the Southern Indiana Review, New Letters, and the Kenyon Review (Kenyon is my undergraduate alma mater).

MWW: What do you love most about poetry, and what do you find that it does a better job of doing than other modes of writing? Conversely, what things frustrate you about poetry?

AJ: I love that poetry can be handed down through the centuries—that it is supposed to survive the poet. I can pick up, as I did today, a book by Russian poet Osip Mandelstam and find truths in his work that apply to my life now. What’s frustrating about poetry isn’t poetry itself but rather people’s attitudes toward it—indifference, or, sometimes, outright hatred. I can only guess that for some people poetry was something they dreaded in school. For me, it was something I adored whenever I had a chance to study it as a child.

MWW: In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg tells us “Forget yourself. Disappear into everything you look at—a street, a glass of water, a cornfield. Everything you feel, become totally that feeling, burn all of yourself with it.” Can you talk about a time you found yourself losing yourself in what you’re writing about? Is that a recommendable path, or do you prefer a certain sense of objectivity?

AJ: That has happened to me fairly recently, because I’ve been writing a lot of poems about loss and grief. The experience of turning grief into poetry, line by line and image by image, is an absorbing one. It’s a path that unfortunately happened to me. I’d much rather not be writing elegies. But elegies do take all your energy and do demand a lot of the poet, even as they provide catharsis.

MWW: What are your favorite takeaways from the sessions you’ll be teaching?

AJ: I’m of the mind that all writing has a bit of poetry in it. What can writers learn from poetry even if they don’t consider themselves poets?

The elements of poetry are the elements of good writing—rhythm, pacing, image, simile, metaphor, epiphanies. Good poetry does what all good writing does—just in a more condensed way. All writers can benefit from studying poetry—if not writing it as well.

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

AJ: My late husband’s nickname for me was ocelot, so let’s go with that.

Register for Virtual MWW21 and meet Allison!

Every writer has something to learn from comics

Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of comic series such as the supernatural noir Tales of Mr. Rhee and the genre-bending horror anthology Nightmare World. More of Dirk’s comic work includes Buried But Not Dead, Twiztid Haunted High-Ons, (nominated for three Ringo Awards, including Best Humor Comic of 2020), Hope, Butts in Seats: The Tony Schiavone Story, Love Stories (to Die For), and The Adventures of Cthulhu Jr. & Dastardly Dirk. Now predominantly publishing with Source Point Press, Dirk was an early adapter in using crowdfunding to launch pre-sales of his comics and graphic novels, with Dirk’s work having raised over $250,000 and counting in pre-sales on Kickstarter alone.

Dirk is also the author of the inspirational/how-to column turned book series Write or Wrong: A Writer’s Guide to Creating Comics and has contributed several short stories to the RPG game series Clockwork: Dominion for Reliquary Game Studios.

His screenplay writing credits include the YouTube horror series Blackbox TV episode “The Hunger” (directed by Drew Daywalt and featuring Bonnie Aarons and Jon Gries).

When not at his desk writing, touring on the comic convention circuit, and/or sampling his way across the best ice cream shops in the world, Dirk can be found online at www.DirkManning.com and on most social media platforms as @dirkmanning.

He does not wear a top hat and scarf in real life.

MWW board member and publicity chair, Leah Lederman, has interviewed the faculty for MWW21. Today, meet Dirk Manning, writer and creator of comic series who discusses his writing and what he will present at our virtual summer conference.

Dirk’s MWW21 sessions:

  • “Creating Comics by the Numbers” — This is a technical-based presentation about how to create comics, including panels per page, words per balloon, balloons per panel–but also gets into the sales and costs of creating comics, too.
  • Panel: “To Agent or Not to Agent” — Angela Jackson-Brown, Pam Mandel, Dirk Manning, Allison Joseph

MWW: In previous discussions on writing, you’ve mentioned Harlan Ellison’s quote “Write angry.” You’ve also used the medium of comics to cover a great range of experience and emotion. Can you tell our readers about the ways comics are a platform for delving into the human experience?

DM: As a writer who lives primarily in the horror genre of the comic medium, one of the things I always seek to do is write stories that people will feel when they’re reading them, remember after they’ve read them, and want to revisit upon remembering them… and all that is dependent on creating an emotional connection to the theme, scenarios, characters, and/or stories being told with a combination in words and pictures.

That may sound a little academic, but that’s only because there’s a science writing a good comic story that resonates with people. As you said, I often quote Harlan Ellison’s “Write angry” mantra, because I think as a writer – especially in the comic medium – your passion can translate to the artist you’re working with, and then through to the reader, too.

Every story in the human experience is rooted in some sort of emotional resonance, and I am honored to be able to create that experience through comics.

MWW: You are the ultimate “Road Scholar.” I remember your three-part article, “15 Shows in 15 weeks” What are a few pieces of advice you can give for people trying to get their work out there, whether online or in-person?

DM: First, know your brand. Know what you offer, because that’s how you’re going to find your tribe. Don’t try to be all things to all people. As we just discussed, I’m primarily a horror comic guy. I have a few variations and exceptions… but that’s mainly what I do, and I own that. That’s how I find my tribe: Other people who like scary stories told in the comic medium. That goes triple for how you represent yourself on social media and online.

Second, start local. I now have the honor of having done conventions and signing appearances from coast to coast and from the tip of the north to the bottom of the south. I didn’t start there, though. I started by doing two conventions a year, each a few hours from my house, and I returned there again and again year after year to ply my trade and start to build-up my audience… my tribe… both in-person and online. It was years before I was able to grow my circle and recognition to the point where I could do things like “15 Shows in 15 Weeks” or be in Seattle one weekend and Chicago two weeks later.

Finally, be proud of what you’re doing. Nothing is more off-putting than someone who criticizes or – even worse – apologizes for what they’re offering in their work. Be proud of what you do, and be the only person who can offer it.

MWW: What do you most love about writing in comics? Conversely, what are some of your frustrations with the genre?

DM: The storytelling techniques (such as the impactful and interlocking juxtaposition of words and pictures) in comics are unique to comics, and it’s one of the main reasons I love this medium so much.

My biggest frustration with comics doesn’t come from the medium, but rather people’s perception of it. Many people associate comics with “kid’s stuff” or “superheroes.” Those are genres, and comics are a medium – a method of delivering stories – rather than a genre. While stories about superheroes have held a lot of prominence in the comic medium in the United States for years, there are comics out there in literally every genre. I think more and more people are becoming more and more aware of that, but I’d like that to be common knowledge to everyone.

Oh, and it’s possible to write comics and not illustrate them, too. I’m a writer – an author – and I work with dozens of extremely talented artists… but I don’t draw myself, past perhaps occasionally sketching a scene or cover layout for consideration for the artist.

MWW: What authors inspire you most, comics or otherwise?

DM: On the prose side of things, Harlan Ellison is a big one for his passion, his output, and his fantastic ability to tell stories of the human condition and experience in fantastic speculative fiction settings. Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe, and Joe Landsdale also remain huge inspirations for me in regards to how well they demonstrate the power of the short story format. In fact, under that criteria, I’d also include Stephen King and Ellison again. Crossing into comics, Joe Hill remains a huge inspiration for how well he weaves between both prose and comics and demonstrates mastery of both mediums… And when we’re talking primarily comic writers, Alan Moore is an unmatched master of the medium. I also greatly enjoy and remain inspired by the comic work of Robert Kirkman, Eric Powell, Mike Mignola, David Lapham, and Garth Ennis each for different reasons.

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

DM: This may sound cheesy, but I think it’s important for each writer to become their own avatar. I think all the best professionals in any line of work become their own brand… and I’d argue, by extent, their own avatar. In my career I took that to a bit on an extreme, creating a “Dirk Manning Avatar” using an illustration of a guy in a black top hat, scarf, and sunglasses as not only my brand logo, but also my author photo almost exclusively for two decades – to the point where people have thought that I walk around in an outfit like that. (Spoiler: I don’t, and never have aside from at a Halloween party.)

I chose to make my mascot that personified Dirk Manning “character” because I didn’t want my brand tied to any one book or book series I wrote. For example, Nightmare World was my first comic series, and it’s one that not only remains a personal favorite of mine, but also an evergreen one in terms of publishing and sales to this very day. However, I never wanted to be just “The Nightmare World Guy” despite how good the series is. I wanted Dirk Manning to be a brand unto itself, the way Stephen King, Alan Moore, and many other authors are and remain.

So, to you up-and-coming authors out there, while perhaps you don’t have to (nor should) take it to the extreme I did (and, to a lesser extent, still do), I think it’s important to make yourself your own brand, and create a logo that’s not only unique to you, but one that people will associate with you in person, on social media, and even on your books and associated products and merchandise.

Register for Virtual MWW21 and meet Dirk!

What stories are you going to tell with this imagination?

Chadwick Gillenwater (also known as Professor Watermelon) is an experienced school librarian, children’s book author and creative writing teacher. Along his journey, he has collected the essential tools to teach his students the elements of writing for children. He knows what makes characters memorable, he understands what makes scenes and settings captivating, and he has discovered what simmers and twists a good plot. As Professor Watermelon, Chadwick has written three middle grade novels. He is President of the Indiana Writers Center, and he lives in Indianapolis with his husband, two dogs and one bearded dragon. www.professorwatermelon.com

MWW board member and publicity chair, Leah Lederman, has interviewed the faculty for MWW21. Today, meet children’s author Chadwick Gillenwater who discusses his writing and what he will present at our virtual summer conference.

Chadwick’s MWW21 sessions:

  • “Write Great Read-aloud Picture Books” — As a school librarian and as Professor Watermelon, Chadwick has read thousands and thousands of picture books to children. He has learned what qualities turn a picture book into a read-aloud classic. In this workshop, let Chadwick help you see if your PB manuscript has what it takes to stand the test of time on the library shelf.
  • “Write your Children’s Book with all 5 Senses” — Writing with all five senses creates a “literary dream” for young readers. If you write scenes that show what your characters are seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling and smelling, your readers will be pulled into a full sensory experience that will keep them turning pages. In this workshop you will learn techniques on writing with all five senses.

MWW: In your children’s writing workshops, you feature local venues and landscapes as writing fodder. You’ve introduced me to so many wonderful places around Indianapolis this way. How do you find all of these places, and how do you recommend other writers find them for themselves where they live?

CG: I find a lot of interesting places just by asking around. If someone that I know works or volunteers at a place that I think would be a cool setting for a tour and class, I ask them if they can put me in touch with the right person to get the ball rolling. I also look at local online and print publications for interesting features or ads that highlight museums, historical buildings, and other places of interest. And sometimes, I see something just by driving or walking by it. My eyes and ears are always open.

MWW: What’s your favorite takeaway from the session you’ll be teaching? Why do you think this is important for writers to consider in their own work?

CG: My favorite takeaway is that every single person on this planet has a unique imagination. Your imagination is the only one like it in the history of the universe. What stories are you going to tell with this imagination? And where are you going to look for inspiration? I have some tools to give you for that.

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

CG: When I was a freshman in high school, I wrote a short story. I took this story back to my 8th grade language arts teacher and asked her to read it. She did, and she cried at the end. I couldn’t believe that I had written something powerful enough to cause tears. I knew then that words had power and that I liked using the written word to express myself.

MWW: In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle says, “All children are artists, and it is an indictment of our culture that so many of them lose their creativity, their unfettered imaginations, as they grow older.” How do you encourage writers of any age to tap into their curiosity and appreciation of the world around us?

CG: I encourage writers of all ages to be open minded, receptive and aware of their environment. If they do, they will have an endless supply of inspiration for creative endeavors. For example, the next time you take a walk in a park, look at the trees. Imagine what these trees have witnessed though their decades and centuries of life. Imagine if you could sit next one of these trees and listen to its stories. Well, you can. Just take along a notebook, a pencil and your imagination and write down what you hear (wink).

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

CG: The project that I’m working on right now isn’t a children’s book, actually. It’s part memoir and part spiritual self-help. In this book I share how I communicate with my dad who died by suicide when I was three. It’s called The Bluebird on Your Shoulder. This book aims to help people maintain, grow and even heal relationships with loved ones who have experienced what is commonly referred to as “death”.

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

CG: A happy, friendly, handsome, cute little dragon!

Register for Virtual MWW21 and meet Professor Watermelon!

Craft + Community: That’s what MWW21 is all about

Make MWW21 your summer destination

Join us for inspiring four days at Midwest Writers Workshop, July 28-31, 2021. It’s the best kind of writing conference for both aspiring authors and those getting ready to pitch or market finished works.

More than 20 sessions cover aspects of novel-writing, creative nonfiction research, children’s writing, memoir, essays, and new this year – writing comics. Plus breakout sessions, writing prompts, cocktail hours, and chances to read a “first page” for feedback.

Everything is online, but we offer a remarkable level of intimacy nonetheless! You’ll find it a joy to get acquainted with fellow speakers and hear from writers whose struggles are similar to yours. In every session, the mutual support and encouragement you receive (in the chat boxes and in small breakout “rooms” where you can unmute and unload) will keep you motivated and inspired. And there’s a private Facebook group for shared links and book recommendations, questions, and selfies.

Best piece of advice for persons registering for MWW21 in July: Keep an open mind. If you write romance novels, attend a poetry session; if nonfiction is your passion, attend how to create powerful scenes. In other words, plan to stretch yourselves in all sorts of new ways. The best part of being a writer is that you never master it. You’re always learning and experimenting.

Virtual MWW21 is around the corner! July 28-31!

MWW21 is more than instructional and inspiring sessions!

Award-winning author and MWW21 fiction faculty, Angela Jackson-Brown offered this wisdom:

On Thursday, July 29th, the second day of the Midwest Writers Workshop conference, you will have the opportunity to “Read Your Stuff” during our Morning Talkabouts.

Of course, some of you are probably shy or nervous about reading your work out loud. In fact, some of you might even avoid reading your work out loud to yourself. Completely understandable. It definitely feels a little awkward. But it’s some of the best advice you can receive when it comes to reviewing your own work. Reading it out loud lets you physically hear it, a different experience altogether from hearing it in your head. We would urge you to consider pushing through that desire to remain silent and share your work.

Below are some reasons why it is great to share your work. The information below comes from an article written by David Berner of The Writer Shed.

  1. You will catch awkward or unnecessary phrases. When we write, we write in silence, meaning we figure out the words in our head and then simply type them. And when you do this, you tend to create unnecessary phrases and sentences, description that is filler, fluff. If we read the work out loud that “fluff” jumps out at us. It will reveal what needs to be cut.
  2. You find the music in your words. When people say, “that writer writes so beautifully,” they usually mean he/she writes like a poet, a lyricist, and the words flow like the most magnificent of songs. And how do we know we like a particular song? We hear it. It’s not enough to see the notes on a staff; we must experience the melody aurally. Words on a page are no different. Reading out loud will let you know immediately if you are one of the “beautiful writers” or if your story is clunking along like a bad ballad from the 80s. It helps you find the rhythm and pace of your writing, and to ultimately create a memorable melody of story.
  3. You will find your voice. There is so much talk about writers finding their voice, that unique pattern and style that is all yours. Many times, writing workshops tend to overplay voice. But what they do get right is that writers should write enough to discover it, not force it. Let it emerge naturally. Reading out loud can help in this process. The more you hear your words, the more you can identify how your writing voice is developing.
  4. You will find your mistakes. We read silently, in part, through a filter. If we do a lot of reading, our brains skim through anticipated phrases and words. We do not read every single word. But, if we read out loud, we are forced to read every word, and that permits us to discover those grammatical errors, typos, even help us see where that comma is misplaced.
  5. You become a better reader of your own work. If you find yourself writing material that is published or can be shared at many of the live lit experiences popping up all over most cities, reading your work out loud will give you practice. You will hear where you need to work on intonation and pace, where there are words and phrases that look good on paper but are hard to say, and you’ll prepare yourself for troublesome pronunciations. I recently wrote a piece that mentioned a town in Wales. I had seen the town’s name hundreds of times in print, but until I read it out loud, I truly hadn’t known the correct way to say it. Reading out loud fixed that.

Perhaps most important when you’re reading your work out loud and correcting the flow and possible minor mistakes: be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. You’re taking a courageous step forward to hear yourself and discover your writing voice. That’s not a small thing.

Make MWW21 July 28-31 your virtual destination! Register today!

YA author Jay Coles discusses Diversity in Kidlit at MWW21

Jay Coles is the author of critically acclaimed Tyler Johnson Was Here, a composer with ASCAP, and a professional musician residing in Muncie, Indiana. He is a graduate of Vincennes University and Ball State University and holds degrees in English and Liberal Arts. When he’s not writing diverse books, he’s advocating for them, serving with The Revolution church, and composing music for various music publishers. Jay’s equally passionate about playing drums. Find him and nerd out over making some dope beats. Jay’s forthcoming novel Things We Couldn’t Say is set to be released this fall with Scholastic!

MWW board member and publicity chair, Leah Lederman, has interviewed the faculty for MWW21. Today, meet Young Adult author Joy Coles who discusses his writing and what he will present at our virtual summer conference.

Jay’s MWW21 sessions:

  • “Diversity in Kidlit” — In this workshop, we will look at what it means to write diversely for young adults and middle graders as well as discuss examples of books/authors that do this well and how can we better equip ourselves to write more inclusively to reflect the world that we live in.
  • “How to Strengthen Your Opening Pages” — In this workshop, we will examine how to make your opening pages to your manuscript stick out by looking at all the ways that you can hook readers–narrative voice, character, setting, and/or killer opening lines. All the things that’ll keep your reader wanting to turn the page.
  • Panel: “Staying Motivated & Productive / Beating Rejection / Improving Your Writing Routine” with authors Larry Sweazy, Jay Coles, Pam Mandel, Matthew Clemens, Moderator: Angela Jackson-Brown

MWW: In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says “Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on.” Do you think this sentiment applies to the work you’re doing, and can you touch on certain themes that emerge from your writing, things you tend to pay attention to? 

JC: Of course. I feel a lot of my writing is fueled by my curiosity to understand and know the world we live in. There’s always more to see, more to experience, and more to discover about our world and even about ourselves and the people we are. My writing usually follows characters who are on a journey of self-discovery and exploring their identities in this broken world. This is why in anything I write you will find conversations about race, sexuality, religion, social justice, and other social issues because these are things that are so deeply entangled with our world and our very existence and it feels unfair not to communicate what’s going on in my work, even if I’m writing fiction.

MWW: What authors or books most inspire you, and why? 

JC: I will read anything by Jason Reynolds, Adam Silvera, and Renee Watson because not only is their writing so gorgeous and poetic, but they happen to tell very real stories in very honest and unflinching ways that inspire me deep at my core.

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

JC: I definitely disengage. I close my laptop (or my writing journal) and I turn on a good movie on Netflix or Disney Plus. I go get dinner, ice cream or a tasty snack and I don’t think about my writing. I’d rather not force anything, even if I’m on a hard deadline. My advice to writers when they feel like they’ve hit a wall, is to stop writing. It’s okay to take a break and recharge. Go on a walk, play a board game with a friend, cook your favorite meal, go biking, or just sit under a tree if it’s nice out! Do anything else to recharge your creativity.

MWW: If you could tell your younger writing-self anything, what would it be?

JC: Don’t believe people who tell you that the best thing to do is write everyday. That’s stupid. And unrealistic.

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

JC: An owl. I love staying up super late writing and snacking (ha!), but I also just love owls in general. My favorite childhood book was HOOT which is all about owls!

Register for Virtual MWW21 and meet Jay!