Meet a Pulitzer Prize Finalist!

Meet MWW faculty member Lee Martin

Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction

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

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

Martin lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Message in a Bottle Reading Series: April 28

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

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

MWW Bottle April 28 Event

One Day Intensives March 17, 2012

MWW is offering One-Day Intensive Sessions!

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

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


Romance Writing

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Picture Books (Illustrated and Authored)

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


  • The Kvetch Who Stole Hanukkah

Click here for our E-pistle announcing this event! Share with others!

Applause Applause for 2011 MWW!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gallery: 2011 Midwest Writers Workshop

Gallery: Message In A Bottle @ MWW

Gallery: March 2011 Message In A Bottle

In March MWW announced our Message in a Bottle Reading Series, held locally at the Blue Bottle Coffee Shop.

Cathy Day: Storyboard Your Novel

2011 Midwest Writers Workshop – “Creating the Storyboard for Your Novel” – Cathy Day. Most of us learn to write by focusing on short, manageable story forms, such as flash fiction, short stories, or essays. But how do we move from “the small thing” to “the big thing”? In this intensive prose session, author Cathy Day will offer practical advice on how to make this shift in your writing life, including in-class writing exercises that will help you create a blueprint or “storyboard” for the book you want to write. Participants are encouraged to bring a package or two of index cards or Post-it Notes (low-tech option) or a laptop equipped with a software program they are already familiar with, like Scrivener (high-tech option). Come with an idea for a book you want to write, not one you have already written.

Mike Lawson: Writing Thrillers

2011 Midwest Writers Workshop – “What I’ve Learned About Writing Thrillers/Mysteries” – Mike Lawson. Author of six acclaimed political thrillers, Mike will share what he’s learned about the craft. Topics include the need for a strong beginning and how to create one; the pitfalls of writing a mystery series; how to make your stories ring true; how to improve the pace of your mystery/thriller; and some practical advice on of the business aspects of writing such as the author/agent/publisher relationship and lessons learned in promoting books. Participants will be requested to share their experiences.

Patti Digh: From Blog to Book

2011 Midwest Writers Workshop – Nonfiction “From Blog to Book” – Are you a blogger who longs for a book contract? Or have you thought of starting a blog to get a book contract? We’ve all heard of six-figure advances being paid to bloggers to turn their blogs into books. Those stories have spurred many people to create blogs – without having anything to say, or without identifying what they long to say. In this hands-on session, we’ll explore why blogging is a good first step to writing a book — and, conversely, why and how focusing on the book deal splits our focus. We’ll explore where we need to stand to tell our stories, how to open space to tell them, how to interact with a blog audience in a way that doesn’t change our voice, and how to define and clarify the organizing principles of both a blog and book. Many of us write from a place of split intentions: we want to tell our story AND we want the audience to love us. This session focused on stepping out of that split intention. It focused more on voice and writing than on book deals, though a Q&A session during the session opened space for sharing of information on the publishing process.