Meet thriller author Mike Lawson

With our 2011 summer workshop fast approaching, we wanted to give you an opportunity to learn more about our faculty. Introducing Mike Lawson — political thriller novelist …

Q: What was it like to switch to a writing career after 30 years of other employment?

I write full time now – meaning four or five hours a day.  Before I was published, I worked ten or twelve hours a day (on the good days) and was responsible for the maintenance of reactor plants in U.S. navy ships at half a dozen naval bases on the West Coast. To say the job was intense is an understatement, and the consequences of failure were enormous.  By comparison, writing is a walk in the park, and every time I hear writers whine about how they “suffer” for their art and complain about the ardors of writing, I have to wonder if they ever had a real job. (Like being a mother or a teacher – those are real jobs) I LOVE to write – it’s like having a hobby I’m getting paid for.

Q:  Your MWW Intensive Session also includes working with agents, book promotion and other publishing business topics. How will the session help authors who don’t write thrillers? (It’s been said every genre needs to know how to write page-turners.)

I think you hit on it. Regardless of the genre they write in, I think unpublished writers and even writers searching for a new publisher or agent, may benefit from my experience on the “business” side – dealing with agents, editors, publishers, contracts, marketing, etc.  Second, I think good books, regardless of the genre, all have certain things in common, such as well-crafted characters, a believable and fast-moving plot, and a style that keeps the reader engaged. Writing is so subjective that my opinion on these topics may not resonate with everyone in the class, but I’m hoping it will be beneficial to others whether they’re writing mysteries, romance, young adult, or whatever.

Q:  Were writers’ conferences an influence on your career? If so, how? 

I’ve found writing conferences beneficial in a number of ways. I’ve met booksellers who’ve promoted my books not only because they like them but because, thanks to the conferences, I’ve established a personal relationship with them. The same could be said for critics I’ve met at conferences.  I’ve obviously learned from other writers at conferences by listening to what they had to say on a particular subject. I’ve met big-name writers and when my publisher asked them to “blurb” the next book, I again think that having a personal relationship with them (translation: a drink in the bar) helped. And lastly, conferences are fun!

Q:  What are three tips for those who might be career-changers looking to break into writing novels as you’ve done?

Tip number one – the biggest tip – is: Be persistent. Getting published is about having talent – and talent is something so subjective there’s no point in trying to define it – being lucky – and there’s nothing you can do about luck – and lastly, being persistent – which you can do something about and which means you keep trying until you finally succeed. (It took me a long time to get my first book deal.)

Second tip: Read. I’m always astounded when I meet writers who aren’t readers, particularly writers who don’t read in their own genre. You can learn more from reading good writers than almost anything else if you think about what the writer is doing as you read.

Last tip: write every day, even if it’s only for fifteen or twenty minutes. Like anything else, you get better at it the more you do it, and no matter how busy you are, you can carve fifteen or thirty minutes out of your day to write.  I wrote my first two novels in half-hour blocks of time on the ferry I used to take to commute to work.

Q: What else would you add for the MWW participants? 

Well, I guess I could add a whole bunch of stuff, but I’m saving that for my sessions at the conference.

Lawson cvrMike’s recent novel is House Divided, which will be released July 2011.


“A great novel from a great author! Lawson goes for broke in this Machiavellian thriller, where Washington power brokers take on elite super spies with one rather perplexed Joe DeMarco trying to outwit-and outlast-the carnage. Equal parts funny, clever and cool, this book will make your heart race and your mind ponder.” -Lisa Gardner, New York Times best-selling author of Live to Tell

“Lawson’s House Divided is a non-stop thrill ride. The author has created a disturbingly real Washington D.C. and peopled it with eerily familiar characters. He writes with wit and verve and displays a shrewd understanding of bureaucratic irony. Thoroughly enjoyable. The political thriller of the year.” -John Lutz, New York Times bestselling author of Urge to Kill and The Night Caller

What Others Say

Faculty Testimonials

The Midwest Writer’s Workshop was not only well-organized, but it was a lot of fun! The writers were all so enthusiastic and willing to ask questions, which I love because that’s what I’m there for. I would definitely come back, if they’d have me, of course.  Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, Agent, Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation

It was a joy for me to be on the faculty of the 2006 Midwest Writers Workshop. This expertly-managed event was located in a stunning facility and offered a broad spectrum of helps to both professional and aspiring writers. I should have come when I was just starting out. — Susan Meissner, inspirational fiction author

Midwest Writers Workshop is by far the friendliest conference I’ve ever taken part in. The open environment and gracious organizers ensure that every writer arrives feeling welcomed and leaves feeling inspired. The instructors there genuinely care about the attendees and go the extra mile to help someone in need. I wish every writer could enjoy the heart-felt support and expert instruction that this event offers.Jane Friedman, past Executive Editor, Writer’s Digest Books

I learned as much outside of the sessions as I did attending formal presentations. There were so many talented folks in attendance that even in the most informal of settings, I was learning something. I have suggested to my students that they seriously consider attending next year’s Midwest Writer’s Workshop. It ranks among the best writing conferences I have ever attended. Peter J. Welling, author & illustrator of children’s books

The Midwest Writers Workshop is one of the best organized conferences that I have had the pleasure of working with. Jama Bigger and her crew of volunteers kept the flow going and included some wonderfully unique events that kept the attendees and the faculty entertained throughout the event.  — Gordon Kirkland, humor author

Alumni Testimonials

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

The 2010 MWW was a wonderful experience. It was my first writing conference and far exceeded my expectations. The hands-on programs were outstanding. Like a brisk morning walk, they stimulated your writing and inspired you to do more. The sessions on the business of writing were enlightening and full of practical advice. But for me, the most important aspect of the conference was the incredible networking opportunity it provided. The speakers were very accessible and willing to spend time between sessions talking with aspiring writers. Over coffee or just stepping outside for some fresh air, fellow writers shared their trials and triumphs, dark moments and inspirations. I was able to meet and establish relationships with fellow writers from around the Midwest and beyond, and those relationships are now growing into a writers’ circle. I also developed relationships with several speakers with whom I have stayed in contact. In the long run, it is those relationships that the Midwest Writers Workshop facilitated which will endure throughout the year — until I can make it back for the next Midwest Writers Workshop in 2011. – Steve Terrell, Camby, IN

The Midwest Writers Workshop was the perfect place for a beginner to learn the trade as well as the ins and outs of the publishing world. Whether you are new to the writing world like myself, or have been writing and publishing books for years, I strongly urge you to put the Midwest Writers Workshop on your calendar for next year. The biggest mistake attendees made was not attending the Intensive Workshops.  The wealth of information learned more than paid for the workshop itself. In addition to the over forty different classes offered, participants are allowed to bring five pages for evaluations with a respected author, agent, or publisher. If you happen to have a manuscript finished and ready for pitching, there were four agents on hand in which to pitch. The Midwest Writers Workshop is an informative workshop no matter which genre you are currently writing in, even if you do freelance writing for magazines. Muncie, Indiana is the home state for the workshop located in the Ball State University Alumni Center with easy access to classes. Next year’s workshop is already on my calendar. — Robin Olson

The conference was an excellent experience, well worth the trip from Kansas. Because of the Thursday intensive sessions and my manuscript meeting during Part II, I have a novel that seemed destined for trunkdom back on track. Terri Coop

This is the workshop I mark on my calendar each year. It’s intimate, informative and reasonably priced. The accessibility of the faculty to help with problems or to give advice is second to none. The intensive class sessions provide a treasure trove of ideas and information. The agent pitch sessions are extremely popular and give writers a real-life look at the business side of writing. To find out how great this workshop was – just ask any attendee. J. D. Webb, author of mysteries

Alumni News

Toni Cantrell‘s book, The Gazebo, was released April 2011 from Belfire Press. Toni has three other novels in print, Strangers and Pilgrims and If Ever That Time Come with Author House and Absentminded by Voni Ryan (co-author Violet Ryan) also from Belfire Press. Another co-authored novel with Bea Simmons was published in July, 2011, and Voni Ryan’s collection of short stories in December, 2011. This prolific author credits much of her confidence and success to attending the annual Midwest Writers Workshop for the past several years.

Michael Ehret is now editor-in-chief of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild in Colorado Springs, CO. He is also a twice-monthly blogger with Novel Journey and the ezine editor for the American Christian Fiction Writers.

Lori Lowe has signed a contract with agent Dr. Uwe Stender, whom she met for a pitch session during the 2010 MWW. He is now representing her nonfiction book.

Tricia Fields also attended Midwest Writers Workshop in 2010 and in September won the Tony Hillerman best first mystery award for her book, The Territory.

Maurice Broaddus, a MWW 1993 alum, had his debut novel, King Maker, released last fall from Angry Robot/Random House, the first of an urban fantasy trilogy set in Indianapolis. He has also founded an annual conference that discusses spirituality and genre fiction. He edits a now annual anthology called Dark Faith (Apex Books) and his fiction has appeared in over two dozen markets. “I just wanted to let you know that one of your local alumna is doing pretty well,” he says.

Q & A With agent Roseanne Wells

Roseanne Wells, Marianne Strong Literary Agency
Wells Roseanne headshotQ: If someone has an appointment with you, what should they bring?

I like to talk with the person and hear the verbal pitch (2-3 sentences), and I will read either the query letter, synopsis, first page, or any combination. My policy about conferences is that I won’t take any material with me, and if I am interested, I will let you know what you should email to me.

Q: What kinds of manuscripts are you looking for?

For more information, they should take a look at the Publishers Marketplace page. I’m interested in narrative nonfiction, science (popular or trade, not academic), history, true crime, religion, travel, humor, food/cooking, and similar subjects.  For fiction, I’m looking for strong literary fiction, YA, sci-fi, fantasy, and smart detective novels (more Sherlock Holmes than cozy mysteries).

Q: Do you have any extra tips for your pitch sessions?  

If you can, be a few minutes early – if the agent isn’t talking to someone, you can usually start your session early, and it shows that you are very interested in seeing them and you are professional.

Be a good listener – the worst sessions are when I feel like the person is using me as a prop for their pitch; sometimes when I recommend a change, or a book they should read, their eyes glaze over. I want to have a conversation about your book, and I want to enjoy meeting you.

If you don’t get a chance to have a session, you can definitely approach me during the conference at another time – just not in the bathroom and not in the buffet line!

Q: Will you accept someone pitching an uncompleted manuscript?

I prefer not, but I understand writers want to take advantage of the conference, which might not sync up perfectly with your writing schedule. I would say it should be complete, but you don’t have to be done with revisions or polishing. And please tell me that it’s not ready! I don’t want you to rush to get it to me because I requested it, only to have to pass because it wasn’t polished.

Q: Finally, if you do not represent what a participant writes but someone else in your agency does, would you ever pass the person on to that agent?

I think it would be better to approach me outside of the pitch session, since those spaces are really for projects that I could sign. It’s better to focus on the agents that are at the conference that do your type of book than to approach me for something that I don’t represent.

Q & A With agent Jessica Sinsheimer

Jessica Sinsheimer, The Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency

Sinsheimer_GreenQ:  If someone has an appointment with you, what should they bring?
Please come with a print-out of your query, a synopsis (around three pages), and the first ten pages. Though I’ll inevitably overpack (and therefore will have no extra room to take anything home), there are times when I need to see your work on paper to get a better idea.

Q: What kinds of manuscripts are you looking for?
On the fiction side, I’m looking for women’s, literary, and young adult fiction of all subgenres. I’m particularly interested in historical fiction, thrillers, and works that feature strong protagonists changing the world around them. For nonfiction, I’d love to see psychology, parenting, food books (memoirs and/or cookbooks), memoirs, pop science, and works that speak to life in the twenty-first century. A strong narrative element is key – with that, we’d be willing to look at work on almost any subject matter. Please see our website,

Q: Do you have any extra tips for your pitch sessions?
Please don’t feel that you have to come in and perform a script you’ve rehearsed. And there’s no need to read your query to me – I can see that later. Just have a short few lines, an elevator pitch, prepared. We’ll talk about your book, what inspired the idea, and a little about you and your life. We have so little time – and everything else can be sent by email.

Q: We know one should not take an agent appointment without a completed manuscript. However, we hear of authors doing that all the time and it somehow works out. Will you accept someone pitching an uncompleted manuscript?

Q: Finally, if you do not represent what a participant writes but someone else in your agency does, would you ever pass the person on to that agent? If you don’t rep what someone writes, should they just not meet with you or can you still help in any way?
Of course. I’m in the business of matchmaking. If I find something wonderful for one of my colleagues or even a friend at another agency, I’m still pleased to know I’ve helped a work find its perfect home.

Q & A with agent Lois Winston

Lois Winston, Ashley Grayson Literary Agency

Winston, LoisQ: What should participants bring to their pitch sessions with you? 

One page query letter and the first 2 pages (double-spaced) of their manuscript.

Q: What are you looking for? 

The Ashley Grayson Literary Agency was established in 1976 and handles both literary and commercial fiction, children’s fiction, and some nonfiction. I currently represent authors who write romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, women’s fiction, mystery, young adult, and horror, but voice is more important to me than genre, and I love books that make me laugh out loud. I’m not interested in category romance, erotica, regencies, inspirationals, westerns, or paranormal books that feature vampires and shape-shifters.

Q: What mistakes do most writers make when approaching agents?

Three top mistakes I see:

1.       Many writers query too soon. Polish your work until it’s the best it can be before you submit, and you’ll receive fewer rejections.

2.       Know correct grammar and punctuation usage. Too many writers don’t know the most basic of grammar and punctuation rules (and no, that’s not what an editor is for.)

3.       Don’t take rejection personally. This is a business. If your work isn’t right for me, it may be perfect for someone else. Or you may need to reread mistakes #2 and #3.

Q:  Will you accept someone pitching an uncompleted manuscript?

I would prefer to see authors with completed manuscripts.
Q:  Finally, if you do not represent what participants write but someone else in your agency does, would you ever pass the person on to that agent? 

Yes, I do pass along manuscripts to our other agents if the manuscript is not right for me but might work for someone else at our agency.


Speaking of agents, we have a MWW success story to share.

During our 2009 MWW, agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of the Nancy Coffey Literary Agency met with workshop participants for pitch sessions and signed three authors as clients. In fact, Joanne now represents MWW attendee Veronica Roth who writes YA and has contracted a 3-book deal with Harper Collins Children’s books.

Roth cover

Veronica’s first book, Divergent, has been on the New York Times Bestseller List at #6 for three weeks! We encourage you to register for MWW 2011. Maybe you will be our next success story.

Q & A with agent Kathleen Ortiz

Kathleen Ortiz, Subrights Director / Agent at Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation
Ortiz, KathleenQ:  If participants made an appointment with you, how should they prepare for their pitch session? 

ALWAYS come prepared with a 2-3 sentence pitch and a hard copy of the query. I stress that the pitch is ONLY 2-3 sentences and the query is the actual query they would send. Since the MWW pitch sessions are ten minutes, the first 5 pages are handy, as well. Come prepared with questions in case the project isn’t for me – I’m happy to spend the rest of the appointment giving advice/resources on how to pitch, send queries, do research, etc.

Q:  What are you looking for?

I’m only looking for YA or paranormal/urban fantasy romance at this time. No women’s fiction or other adult genres outside of romance. I like all YA, though the darker the better. I’d really like a YA horror, thriller, suspense, cyberpunk or intense mystery.

Q: What do you wish more writers knew?

Top three mistakes I see:

1.       Reading the entire query to me (it’s a pitch – 2-3 sentences)

2.       Arguing with me if I kindly state it’s not for me. You want someone who will be an advocate of your work – if it’s not for me, respect my decision and use the extra time to ask questions about the industry. Someone else WILL be an advocate for your work.

3.       Giving me a business card. I don’t keep them. If I ask for pages, it’s the author’s job to contact me not the other way around.

Q:  Will you accept someone pitching an uncompleted manuscript?

I prefer someone pitches me if the manuscript is completed.
Q:  Finally, if you do not represent what a participant writes but someone else in your agency does, would you ever pass the person on to that agent? 

If I’m pitched a Middle Grade, I will certainly refer it if it has potential. Otherwise, I prefer not to be pitched if it’s not something I rep.

Interview with author Patti Digh

“I can’t wait to meet Patti, whose most recent book, Creative is a Verb, is full of the author’s fascinating personal stories. Patti inspires readers to get in touch with their uniqueness,” commented MWW committee member Cathy Shouse. “It also offers hundreds of thought-provoking quotes from everyone from Malcolm Gladwell to C.S. Lewis.  I appreciate its refreshing reminder that along with instruction on craft we must learn to effectively tap into the creativity each one of us was born with.”Q: Your Thursday Intensive Session “From Blog to Book” is the first time MWW has offered such a topic. Give us a brief overview and timeline of how your blog turned into a book.

I started writing my blog,, in January of 2005, as a response to my stepfather dying just 37 days after being diagnosed with lung cancer. I was asking myself one question: “What would I be doing if I only had 37 days to live?” and writing my stories down for my two daughters was one important answer to that question. Several years after I started writing it, a publisher approached me and asked if I was interested to make a book from 37days. That book, Life is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful and Live Intentionally, was published by Globe Pequot Press in 2008, and is illustrated exclusively by readers of my blog from around the world.

Q: Tell us a little about your background.

I got my undergraduate degree in English, with a focus on contemporary American literature, and my graduate degree in English and Art History, with a focus on the figure of the artist in fiction.

My graduate thesis was on William Gaddis’ masterpiece, The Recognitions, which I consider one of the great American novels (along with Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove [yes, really], and Richard Powers’ The Time of Our Singing).

I imagined I would be an English professor somewhere, but I found myself in Washington, D.C., for 20 years after graduate school, in the business world.  The first book I co-authored was called a “business book of the year 2000” by Fortune magazine. A few years later, I wrote another well-regarded business book.

And then the death of my stepfather sent me on a much more personal path, and I haven’t looked back at that other business voice since. I am fully inhabiting my own voice now, and telling my own stories.

Q: When you started blogging, was your objective to get a book contract and if so, are there specific steps to make that happen?

Absolutely not, and I believe we fall prey to focusing on outcome and not on process far too often. My intention was singular: I wanted to write my stories down for my two daughters so they would know me as a person, and not just as a mom. I wanted to leave behind a record of my being-all of it, not just the tidy professional me, but the messy, confused, fearful parts too.

I had no audience in mind but them, and I believe this singularity of intention ultimately drew readers in great numbers to the blog, ironically. A friend teaches young actors and one of the first things he teaches them is that you can’t play two intentions on stage at the same time. For example, you can either warn Hamlet (if that is the part you are playing), or you can try to get the audience to love you, but you can’t do both and do them honestly. Writing for a book contract is a split intention. Write what it is you long to say instead. Focus on process-using your voice, saying what you long to say-and not on product. Focus on content, and not on form.

Q: Will your MWW Intensive Session be more technology oriented or writing oriented; in other words, what should people expect?

Writing, writing, writing, writing, writing. In general, writers spend more time talking about how to write or what to write or what keeps us from writing than we do actuDigh creative bookally writing. This intensive will take us into process. I’ll also share insider tips on product–what happens in that liminal space between blog and book? We’re going to look at intention, voice, and much more–by writing, by digging into both content and form.

Q: Anything quirky or unusual about yourself inquiring minds would want to know?

My childhood hero was Johnny Unitas (quarterback for the Baltimore Colts), I played Johnny Appleseed in my fourth grade play, one of my favorite recording artists is Johnny Cash, I have a slight obsession with Johnny Depp, and I’m married to a man named Johnny. There is a pattern here. I also love the smell of lavender, and I write a thank you note every morning. And mail it. And I love to laugh.

Jane Friedman’s new book

The Future of Publishing: Enigma Variations is a definitive and comprehensive view on how book publishing will evolve and transform. It analyzes the future of not only authors, but also agents, editors, publishers, bookstores, and reading/literacy in general. If you’ve been curious, fearful, or anxious—or just want to know the future ahead of everyone else (and who doesn’t!)—then don’t miss this excellent and informed perspective.

All for the low, low price of $1.99. Isn’t peace of mind worth that much to you?

Release date: April 1, 2011.

Note on e-book format/compatibility
This book is only available for purchase as a PDF document. However, the PDF can be downloaded, viewed, and read on virtually any device—including your desktop computer, your tablet, your mobile, and your e-reading device (such as Kindle). You can also print out a hard copy from the PDF. If you have any questions, please contact me.

About Jane Friedman

Jane has been on the faculty of our summer workshop since 2003. She was awarded the Midwest Writers Workshop Dorothy Hamilton Award in 2008.

As the former publisher and editorial director of Writer’s Digest, Jane Friedman is an industry authority on commercial, literary, and emerging forms of publishing. She has spoken at more than 200 writing events since 2001, and is known within the publishing industry as an innovator, cited by sources such as Publishers Weekly, GalleyCat, PBS, and Mr. Media. She has been a speaker at BookExpo America, an adviser to Digital Book World, and recently served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, to review 2011 grants in literature.


Jane currently serves as a visiting professor of e-media at the University of Cincinnati, and is a contributing editor to Writer’s Digest.


Since 2008, she’s offered advice for writers at her award-winning blog, There Are No Rules, which receives 50,000 visits every month. She is the author of the Beginning Writer’s Answer Book (Writer’s Digest, 2006), and is working on a new book for writers, forthcoming in 2012.


MWW Mini-workshop at Brownsburg Library

BROWNSBURG, IN – “How To Ramp Up Your Writing” will be the theme of a Saturday, April 23, mini-workshop presented by Midwest Writers Workshop. The workshop is $10 and open to persons interested in learning more about writing and in furthering their writing careers. It is scheduled at the Brownsburg Public Library (450 South Jefferson Street, Brownsburg, IN 46112) from 9 a.m. to noon. Following an opening discussion, participants will break into interest groups focusing on different writing genres.

Midwest Writers special events coordinator Cathy Shouse of Fairmount will discuss getting a book contract; Dianne Drake of Brownsburg, writing fiction; Holly Miller of Anderson, writing for magazines; Mike Brockley of Muncie, writing poetry. All leaders have extensive writing credits and also are members of the Midwest Writers Workshop committee, a Muncie-based writers’ organization that sponsors a major summer writing conference plus special events throughout the year, including mini-workshops held throughout the state. Drake, a Brownsburg resident and author of 20+ published books, is a special guest for the day. The Friends of the Brownsburg Public Library will provide light refreshments.

Participants will receive $20 certificates toward the cost of attending the 38th annual writers’ workshop, scheduled in Muncie, IN, July 28-30, 2011. For more information, contact the Brownsburg Public Library at (317) 852-3167 or by registering online HERE.

Note: Registration is required. The $10 payment will be taken at the door only on the day of the event. Those who present valid Brownsburg Public Library cards will receive a $5 discount. Seating is limited. Registering early is encouraged.