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

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

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

Here’s the Zoom link.

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

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

Subscribe to John’s YouTube Channel
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Join us on Friday, Oct 23rd at 4pm ET for this fun discussion!

 

Conversation with author Lara Ehrlich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MWW: What writers do you feel have influenced you?

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

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

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

MWW: Do you have any writing rituals?

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

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

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

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

MWW: How did attending MWW affect your career?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join us: MWW + Finish Strong for 2020

What a year 2020 has been, right?!

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

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

Have you fallen behind in some areas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are not alone in this writing journey.

Register HERE for Finish Strong for 2020.

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

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

Yes, MWW loves to celebrate writers.

And now it’s Annie Sullivan we celebrate!

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

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

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

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

Join us! MWW Agent Fest Online 2020

MWW Agent Fest Online 2020: November 18-21, 2020

Wednesday 9:30 am, ET through Saturday 5:00 pm, ET. {Cost: REDUCED! $199}

Our 2019 MWW Agent Fest was a big success! What attendees said:

To have one-on-one time with an agent is invaluable. The agents were all great and attentive. The conference was packed with useful information and opportunities.

A caring, professional organization for debut authors as well as accomplished authors.

A great and welcoming event with enthusiastic people and agents ready to give you real feedback.

I love how relaxed it was. The agents were friendly and engaged and it did wonders to calm my nerves. I really felt that they wanted to see me succeed.

So helpful! Really tangible and practical advice.

 

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 vaunted agents in search of new voices! Advocate for your book in a high-energy environment, and you might just become another MWW success story. 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 2020, 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 2020. 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.

The cost for our MWW Agent Fest Online 2020 experience has been reduced to $199. No more choosing among breakout sessions. Attend ALL 18 sessions live or watch recorded sessions for up to one month later. You can even rewatch sessions you find particularly helpful. You’re getting more sessions for less money, and you can attend in your PJs!

Our online conference features:

  • Opportunity to pitch to three of our remarkable faculty of agents and editors who know their stuff, providing information for aspiring writers to help move their writing forward.
  • A total of 18 sessions, via Zoom video conferencing. The sessions include a variety of content from agents and editors that feature lectures with vital, informative, enjoyable discussions that 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 2020 is offering 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 2020 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)

  • Jennifer Grimaldi, Charlberg & Sussman
  • Jolene Haley, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
  • Eric Myers, Myers Literary Management
  • Latoya Smith, LCS Literary Services
  • Abby Saul, The Lark Group
  • Alice Speilburg, Speilburg Literary
  • Amy Stapp, Wolfson Literary
  • Cherry Weiner, Cherry Weiner Literary Agency
  • Shannon Kelly, Associate Editor, Abrams

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.

Sessions:

  • Working With Your Agent – Eric Myers, Myers Literary Management
  • Agents/Author Conversation – Agents Cherry Weiner and Latoya Smith and author Larry D. Sweazy
  • The Nonfiction Book Proposal – Alice Speilburg, Speilburg Literary
  • The Do’s and Don’ts of Querying Agents – Amy Stapp, Wolfson Literary
  • Working With An Agent – Latoya Smith, LCS Literary Services
  • Building Your Author Platform to Elevate Your Career – Jolene Haley, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
  • Ask the Agent About Publishing – Cherry Weiner, Cherry Weiner Literary Agency
  • What an Editor Wishes Every Author Knew – Shannon Kelly, Associate Editor at Abrams
  • 360 View of the Path to Publication – Jennifer Grimaldi, Charlberg & Sussman
  • Agent/Author Conversation – Agent Alice Speilburg with author Angela Jackson-Brown
  • How to Create a Believable World in SFF – Jennifer Grimaldi, Charlberg & Sussman
  • You’ve Got A Book Deal, Now What? – Latoya Smith, LCS Literary Services

Evening sessions: (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday)

First Page Read – Love It or Leave It, “Okay, Stop” –This is a chance to get your first page read (anonymously — no bylines given) with our attending agents/editors commenting on what was liked or not liked about the submission. Get expert feedback on your incredibly important first lines and know if your writing has what it needs to keep readers’ attention.

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. This is your chance to sell your book, so write it out, practice it and perfect your pitch. Use a stopwatch so you can keep time—and their attention!
  • 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. Registration Now Available!

 

Accept the 90 Days to Your Novel challenge – with Sarah Domet

Meet fiction author Sarah Domet!

Sarah Domet is the author of The Guineveres, originally released from Flatiron Books/Macmillan in October 2016. It received starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal along with praise from O Magazine, People, Elle, Real Simple, Harper’s Bazaar, and The New York Times Book ReviewSouthern Living voted it one of the Best Books of 2016 by Southern Authors and Bustle included it on their list of 2016’s best debut novels. Sarah is also the author of 90 Days to Your Novel, and her short fiction and nonfiction have been published and anthologized in numerous places. Sarah holds a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing from The University of Cincinnati, and she currently teaches in the creative writing program at Ball State University.

Sarah’s MWW20 sessions include:

  • 90 Days to Your Novel Challenge – A line has been drawn in the sand. Come prepared to cross it and to accept the 90 Days to Your Novel challenge. This session will help you arm yourself with a deadline, some good writing habits, and an outline in order to imagine, structure, and complete a draft of a novel in 90 days.
  • You Finished Your Manuscript, Now What? – Completing your manuscript is only half of your job as a novelist. This session will address the necessary next steps toward publishing and promoting your work.
  • Character + Yearning = Plot – This session will explore how understanding your character–and your character’s yearning–serves as the crucial foundation for the plot of your novel.
  • Panel: Outliner or Pantser? [Tracy Clark, Sarah Domet, Sarah Aronson, Moderator: Angela Jackson-Brown]

 

Sarah Domet - MWW20
Sarah Domet – MWW20

Angela Jackson-Brown, Midwest Writers Workshop board member, interviewed Sarah for this faculty Q&A.

MWW: Often times writers have a “do as I say, not as I do” approach to writing. What is some advice that you give to your students, that you wish you did more of in your own writing? 

SD: I always tell students to let go of perfectionism in the first draft of anything–just write and have fun with it. Enjoy the process. Revel in the pure joy of language. Follow the energy of the story to unexpected places. Whatever you do: keep writing. The sentences and pages will add up. I do feel I could follow this advice a bit more. On occasion, I find myself reworking the same paragraph/page/scene over and over again, and usually this is a sign that I’m stuck. I’m a big believer in the idea that the first draft of anything is simply a process of trying to figure out how to tell a story.

MWW: In your novel The Guineveres, you have four characters who share the same name. How easy or difficult was it developing their individual voices? What are the techniques/strategies you used to make sure each character resonated off the page?

SD: Voice is everything in fiction. I always tell my students that once you find your voice, you find your story. Part of narrative voice is discovering who is telling the story, of course. But perhaps equally important is figuring out who the imagined listener of your story might be. In The Guineveres, the turning point for me was figuring out just who was listening. Why were these girls telling this story in the first place? In the end, the answer surprised me!

In general, I find it useful for writers to think about this question: Why do I want to tell this story? If you can answer this question clearly, then you can often tap into your characters–and their motives–in more authentic ways.

MWW:  What are the main takeaways you want conference attendees to walk away with after taking your workshop?

SD: I hope attendees walk away with confidence in their voices and with concrete plans for finishing, revising, or submitting their work.

[Support Midwest Writers Workshop by purchasing MWW20 authors’ books with Amazon Smile! Click here.]
Join Sarah and the MWW Community to help you move forward with your stories! Check out this awesome schedule — and you get access to ALL 23 sessions!

Register for Virtual MWW20 here today!

Lori Rader-Day presents An Autopsy of a Novel – MWW20

Lori Rader-Day is the Edgar Award-nominated and Anthony and Mary Higgins Clark award-winning author of The Lucky One (February 2020), Under a Dark Sky, The Day I Died, Little Pretty Things, and The Black Hour. She lives in Chicago, where she is co-chair of the mystery readers’ conference Murder and Mayhem in Chicago and the national president of Sisters in Crime. [Support Midwest Writers Workshop by purchasing The Lucky One with Amazon Smile! Click here.]

Her short fiction has been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, TimeOut Chicago, Crab Orchard Review, Freight Stories, and in the anthologies Dia de los Muertos (Elektrik Milkbath Press), Unloaded 2 (Down and Out Books), and Murder-a-Go-Go’s (Down and Out Books). Bestselling author Jodi Picoult chose Lori’s story as the grand prize winner of Good Housekeepings first fiction contest in 2010.

She studied journalism at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, twice–but eventually gave in to her dream and studied creative writing at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Now a resident of Chicago for almost twenty years, she has a favorite deep dish pizza (Lou Malnati’s) and is active in the area’s crime writing community.

Join “Happy Hour with Lori” – Monday (July 20), Wednesday (July 22), Friday (July 24) from 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm. as she discusses An Autopsy of a Novel.

Lori will walk you through her entire process for writing her novels. MWW20 session participants are encouraged–not required–to read The Lucky One prior the conference. Lori may need to talk about some spoilers to tell this story. Reading the book prior to the sessions will help a great deal not to have the twists ruined and to see how she worked them through.

Moderator Jama Kehoe Bigger will ask Lori – DAY ONE:

  • Where did the idea come from?
  • How did she create the plot?
  • At what point did she determine her characters?
  • Can we see her synopsis?

Since we hope most of the audience will have read the book, Lori will stop and ask for your feedback on decisions she made when writing the book. She can describe a problem that came up and ask you what you would have done to solve the problem. This will lead to lively dialogue! The purpose of this Happy Hour with Lori is to encourage writers to read books critically; to help workshop participants understand the steps involved in creating a publishable novel; to build community among MWW patrons; and promote literary citizenship by supporting an author and his/her work.

Moderator Jama will ask Lori – DAY TWO:

  • What did her outline look like?
  • How rough was her rough draft?
  • Talk about the editing process. How much input did her editor give her?
  • Who chose the title?

Moderator Jama will ask Lori – DAY THREE:

  • Did she have any control over the cover design?
  • What kinds of obstacles did she encounter along the way?
  • Did she have beta readers?
  • How many drafts did she do?

COUNTDOWN: ONE WEEK!

Join Lori and the MWW Community to help you move forward with your stories! Check out this awesome schedule — and you get access to ALL 23 sessions!

Register for Virtual MWW20 here today!

Q&A with Lori Rader-Day

MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger caught up with Lori about her writing and her friendship with Midwest Writers Workshop.

Lori Rader Day - MWW20
Lori Rader Day – MWW20

MWW: Introduce yourself and tell us about your latest novel/creative project.

LRD: Hi, everyone! I’m Lori Rader-Day, a Midwest Writers Workshop alumna and award-winning crime fiction writer. I’m also the national president of Sisters in Crime, and you can consider that a commercial. My latest published book is The Lucky One, which is a psychological thriller about a woman who was kidnapped as a child (and returned safely) and is paying back her good fortune by helping find cold case missing persons–when she sees a face she recognizes on the site and it’s her kidnapper, never brought to justice. My latest project, not yet published, is a historical crime story set during World War II at Agatha Christie’s summer house, Greenway, in Devon, England.

MWW: We’re all creating new routines for ourselves in the midst of COVID. What does dedicating time to your craft right now look like for you?

LRD: To finish my recent revisions for that last project, I had to dedicate so much what we call “butt in chair” time that I might have injured myself. Who says this job isn’t a physical one? This was hours a day every day for most of the quarantine, which gave me something to focus on. Now that I’m done… well, let’s just say I might start writing my next book sooner than planned.

MWW: What role has Midwest Writers Workshop played in your personal path to publication?

LRD: Midwest Writers Workshop was the first writing conference I ever went to. I had no idea who I was, what kind of writer I wanted to be, but I had so much fun. When I went back the next time, I had a clearer idea–but I was wrong, because when I went to MWW’s fellow retreat (RIP) one year, I found out I was a crime fiction writer. I didn’t know, but the wise people at MWW made sure I left with a better idea of the story I was writing and what I would need to do to get it written. That book was published as my third novel in 2017, but the scene I wrote at the retreat is still in the book.

MWW: Why would you encourage writers–of any age or any experience level–to participate in Midwest Writers Workshop?

LRD: I send a lot of people to MWW because I think it’s a welcoming space with great teachers. I think any age of writer could find some fellow writers to hang out with, and any experience level will find some classes to fit their needs.

Lori’s waiting to meet you for Happy Hour!

“Creative Research” and how to decide what works with your story

Meet MWW20 faculty member Kelcey Parker Ervick

Kelcey Parker Ervick is the author of three award-winning books: The Bitter Life of Bozena Němcová, a hybrid work of biography, memoir, and art about a Czech fairy tale writer; Liliane’s Balcony (Rose Metal Press), a novella set at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater; and the story collection For Sale By Owner (Kore Press).

She is co-editor, with Tom Hart, of the forthcoming Field Guide to Graphic Literature: Artists and Writers on Creating Graphic Narratives, Poetry Comics, and Literary Collage, which Rose Metal Press will publish in 2021.

She has received grants from the Indiana Arts Commission and the Sustainable Arts Foundation. Her stories, essays, and comics have appeared in The Believer, The Rumpus, Colorado Review, Passages North, Quarterly West, Booth, Notre Dame Review, The Common, and elsewhere. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati and teaches creative writing at Indiana University South Bend.

Kelcey Parker Ervick MWW20
Kelcey Parker Ervick – MWW20

Kelcey’s MWW20 sessions include:

  • The “I” And The “Eye” In Nonfiction – How to strengthen your memoir by developing a persona and writing from a clear and consistent narrative perspective.
  • Searching and Researching: How To Write What You Don’t Know – How to take your memoir to the next level by making connections to history, politics, science, and culture.
  • Scene Magic – Kelcey will take you step by step through the writing of a compelling scene, then we will break those scenes down to identify the key parts so you can do it again (and again) on your own.

Lylanne Musselman, Midwest Writers Workshop board member, interviewed Kelcey for this week’s faculty Q&A.

MWW: Your award-winning book, The Bitter Life of Bozena Němcová, is billed as a biographical collage. How did that come about? Did you start writing with that idea in mind?

KPE: Bozena Němcová is a fairy tale writer whom I first encountered when I bought a book of her fairy tales for my daughter in the Prague Castle gift shop. I then learned that she is everywhere in Prague: there are statues and plaques and books and theater productions inspired by her. She is even on the Czech equivalent of the $20. (Imagine: a woman! on paper money!)

Long before it was a book idea, it was just me wondering: Who is this person? Why is she so important here? And why have I never heard of her before?

In my quest to find answers, I was so dazzled by everything I came across, and all my notes and quotes seemed to be in conversation with one another. So, I decided to tell the story of her life through actual snippets of her fairy tales and (amazingly frank) letters, gossip and recollections by her friends, radio interviews, and even things Kafka wrote about her in his letters. So, it became a “biographical collage.”

MWW: One of your sessions for Virtual MWW20 is “Searching and Researching: How to Write What You Don’t Know.” Writers are often told to only “write what you know” so what teaser can you give us about this session without giving too much away?

KPE: “Research” sounds so dull, but it isn’t! And it can add so much to your writing.

For example, I learned that one of the (rather disturbing) Frida Kahlo paintings that was originally owned by the historical characters in my book Liliane’s Balcony is now owned by Madonna, who uses it as a test litmus of friendship: “If somebody doesn’t like this painting,” she said, “then I know they can’t be my friend.”

Actually, that’s a terrible example because although I REALLY wanted to include that research tidbit, I couldn’t make it work in the story, so it’s not in the book!

Anyway, in this session I’ll provide strategies and fun examples of what I call “creative research” and how to decide what works with your story. Then I’ll offer a list of specific ways you can apply and incorporate your discoveries into your writing to add depth, detail, and humor.

MWW: What is your writing process like? Do you have any set rituals? 

KPE: In 2018, I started making a drawing or painting each day, and I’m now in my third year of doing it, and it has transformed my writing life. I have a different, less precious, relationship to painting than writing, so it is a way for me to create more freely and have fun. I post most of my daily doodles on Instagram, where it’s fun to connect with other readers, writers, and artists. The whole experience helped me think differently about how I write and the stories I tell. Weirdly, making visual art has helped me find my “voice.” (The Rumpus published my visual reflections on daily art-making in 2018 and again in 2019.)

I also like having at least two different projects going at once. This way, if one project isn’t going well on a certain day, there’s always another to work on.

Another part of my process is stepping back from a piece and writing ABOUT it: Why am I writing it? What am I trying to say? How would I describe it to a stranger? Writing about and reflecting on these questions can help me move forward and provide focus when I go back to drafting.

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

KPE: I’m working on a couple of different projects. Both are illustrated narratives. One is inspired by my great-grandmother’s life in Belfast, Ireland, working as a flax-spinner making tablecloths for the Titanic, which was being built in nearby shipyards, while dreaming of taking it to America.

The other is an illustrated memoir about being part of the first generation of Title IX, the law best known for creating equal opportunities for girls and women in sports. Like my literary idol, Vladimir Nabokov, I was a soccer goalie who wanted to be a writer. Unlike him, I was a girl. As I tell my story, I share stories of women athletes and writers who paved the way.

Join Kelcey and the MWW Community to help you move forward with your stories! Check out this awesome schedule — and you get access to ALL 23 sessions!

Register for Virtual MWW20 here today!

Sarah Aronson is all about about exploring those three I’s!

Meet MWW20 faculty member Sarah Aronson

Sarah Aronson began writing for kids and teens when someone in an exercise class dared her to try. Since then, she has earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and published three stand alone novels: Head Case, Beyond Lucky, and Believe, a young MG series, The Wish List (Scholastic, 2017-2019) as well as the picture book biography, Just Like Rube Goldberg (Beach Lane Books), illustrated by Robert Neubecker.

When Sarah is not writing or reading (or cooking or riding her bike), she is talking to readers about creativity, writing, social action, and of course, sparkle power! She loves working with other writers in one of her classes at  the amazing Highlights Foundation or Writers on the Net (www.writers.com). She currently serves as PAL coordinator for SCBWI-Illinois-and the SCBWI-IL initiative, Read Local. Warning: She overuses exclamation points. When she gets really excited, she makes funny faces and talks with her hands. She lives in Evanston, Illinois.

Sarah Aronson - MWW20
Sarah Aronson – MWW20
Sarah’s MWW20 sessions include:
  • Get to Know Your MG/YA Novel – Sarah will present her philosophy on the stages of revision, beginning with reimagination and how writers can discover their most authentic voices. She will look at the three I’s: Inspiration, Intuition, and Intellect. She will offer her best tips, as well as anecdotes for every stage of revision–from concept to word–that are guaranteed to amplify voice and give you the confidence you need to dig deep into your novel narratives. She will provide a hand-out filled with exercises you can use to help you embrace the power of play.
  • Panel: Outliner and Pantser? [Tracy Clark, Sarah Domet, Sarah Aronson, Moderator: Angela Jackson-Brown]
  • To Move Forward, Look Back – Explore backstory to reveal new opportunities for revision and reimagination. In this lecture, Sarah will look at three kinds of back story-your story’s origins, your characters’ past, and your emotions and reasons for writing-as tools for discovery and revision. Writing exercises included.
  • No More Subpar Subplots – Are you stuck in the muddy middle?  Worried that your novel sags and drags? Or are you just plain lost? Perhaps you need to ramp up your subplots!  In this seminar, Sarah will break down the art of writing compelling secondary characters and subplots, and help you increase the conflict and pace your novel. Come prepared to do some writing exercises and self-editing. Warning: this process may lead to the death (or creation) of brand new characters!

Gail Werner, long-time friend of Midwest Writers Workshop, caught up with Sarah recently and interviewed her for this Q&A.

MWW: Can you tell me more about your background and how you got into writing young adult fiction? Someone you knew dared you once to give it a try, right?   

SA: Yes! Before I was a writer, I was a physical therapist, and for a long time, I taught a variety of exercise classes. After one spinning class, someone dared me to try writing. This didn’t completely surprise me. I had grown up loving and performing theater, and if you ask my mom and dad, I have always been a very persuasive story teller. So, I went home and found my children reading. (Rebecca was reading Esperanza, Rising, and Elliot was reading Bunnicula–for maybe the 100th time!) I don’t think I really thought much about it. I decided to try writing my favorite kinds of books–books for young readers–took out a pen and paper and started writing!

(I admit: I thought it would be easy. It wasn’t!)

After a few false starts, I met editor, Deborah Brodie, who liked my voice, but not much more! She suggested I get my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Since that experience, I’ve published nine books for kids with one more under contract. I love talking about craft–and working with writers to help them find their stories. Every day, I am inspired by so many writers in the children’s literature community. We have great readers and an important mission: to give every child the opportunity to see themselves in stories that end with hope.

MWW: One of your MWW20 sessions–“To Move Forward, Look Back”–is on the topic of exploring backstory as a writer’s tool for discovery and revision. What do you think are the key purposes of backstory, and why is backstory important to good character creation?

SA: Backstory is all about the WHY–and the why is the key to understanding our characters’ motivations and desires that propel the story forward. No story begins on page one. Our characters’ past experiences form their worldviews–and that helps us imagine what they will do when faced with obstacles. Our backstories are important, too! They help us understand what our stories mean to us–and also mine for personal details. It’s going to be a fun session!

MWW: What do you love most about writing for kids and teens? On the flip side, what is the greatest challenge? 

SA: I love hanging out with kids! I love thinking like a kid. Childhood is a time of discovery and growth–both physical and emotional. My favorite books are the books I read when I was young. Getting into the mindset of a young person or teen is both rewarding and incredibly challenging! As an adult, I have a lot to share. But books aren’t teachers. Story is still the boss.

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

SA: I just finished editing my upcoming picture book called Brand New Bubbe.

Other works in progress include a middle grade novel that begins when the protagonist gets kicked out of camp for reasons she will not disclose. Because her parents are busy, they send her to her grandmother’s house for two weeks. It’s a story of family and friendship–my first story that takes place in Chicago. I’m also working on a mystery as well as a picture book about the history of Paint By Numbers. I like working on more than one project at a time–they are all in different stages. My writing process is all about the power of play. It’s about exploring those three I’s: inspiration, intuition, and intellect!

Join Sarah and the MWW Community to help you move forward with your stories! Check out this awesome schedule — and you get access to ALL 23 sessions!

Register for Virtual MWW20 here today!

Carol Saller helps writers polish their work for submission

Meet MWW20 faculty member Carol Saller

Carol Saller is a longtime contributing editor to The Chicago Manual of Style and writes for Fiction+ at the CMOS blog. She has also worked as an acquiring editor in children’s book publishing (Cricket Books). Her own books include The Subversive Copy Editor and several books for children, most recently the MG/YA novel Eddie’s War.

Praise for The Subversive Copy Editor …

“This is the book Oprah would write if her vocation were saving writers from embarrassment, rather than saving the whole world. To which I say, finally. I’ve got dozens of books concerned with the nuts and bolts of copy-editing, but this is the only one that teaches the fine art of chilling out.” — Jennifer Balderama, New York Times

Carol’s sessions for MWW20 include:
  • From Yourself to the Shelf: How a Book Gets Published – Knowing in advance what happens in copy-editing and proofreading helps writers understand their responsibilities, manage expectations, and work well with editors. This introduction to the publishing process from submission to printed (or digital) product will prepare you to work capably alongside the pros in delivering your work to readers.
  • Acts of Submission: Working with Editors – Each year writers and editors submit thousands of questions to The Chicago Manual of Style, and for more than 20 years, editor Carol Saller read them all. To her, the number of questions beginning “My editor insists . . .” began to present a theme: that in editorial battles, the reader is the one who loses. Her book The Subversive Copy Editor is all about win-win strategies for editors and writers. This session presents advice from the book Publishers Weekly called “practical, relentlessly supportive and full of ed-head laughs.”
Carol Saller welcomes you to MMW2020
Carol Saller welcomes you to MMW2020

Jama Kehoe Bigger, MWW Executive Director, caught up with Carol recently and interviewed her for this Q&A.

MWW: What is The Chicago Manual of Style? What is the biggest source of confusion for writers about style manuals?

CS: The Chicago Manual of Style is a gigantic reference book filled with grammar and style advice for writers, everything from hyphenation and capitalization to writing footnotes and creating an index. It has chapters on permissions, tables, mathematics, languages other than English — you name it. It’s the style guide used most by US trade book publishers. It’s been around for generations and is respected all over the world.

The biggest source of confusion about style manuals is that they disagree, and that’s OK! Style manuals are created to serve different kinds of audiences or different kinds of publishing. Most newspapers use Associated Press (AP) style, for instance, which is different from Chicago style. So, for example, Chicago writes “lions, tigers, and bears” with a comma and AP writes it without, “lions, tigers and bears.” They’re both “correct.”

Styles are simply choices an editor makes in order to keep things consistent within a document, and following a manual keeps the editor’s choices consistent and saves the editor the trouble of making a million decisions.

MWW: Why did you write The Subversive Copy Editor? And why “subversive” in the title?

CS: Well, you caught me out. I don’t really have much potential as a subversive. But so many copy editors — especially inexperienced ones — take their style guides as sacred texts, I began to feel subversive in counseling them to be more flexible and break rules when it helps the reader. And as a colleague pointed out, The Subversive Copy Editor is a much more fun title than The Sensible Copy Editor.

MWW: How did you become an editor? Do you have any pet peeves as an editor?

CS: I sort of stumbled into editing by chance — it’s a long and boring tale. But I feel lucky to have found work that’s suited me so well.

Although I’m officially against peeving, which I believe stems from arrogance and leads to grammar-shaming and bullying, I can’t deny that there are some expressions that give me hives even though they’re already almost universally accepted. Here’s one: the use of “All X are not” to mean “Not all X are.” To me, it’s just nonsense! I could go on and on about this – if anyone’s curious, they can read my essay “All Lawyers Are Not Liars: True or False?

MWW: You have read thousands of questions submitted to The Chicago Manual of Style. What are your favorite editing tips for writers?

CS: The best writers are readers. Read the kind of thing you want to write — read lots of it — to get an intuitive feel for how to write it. You can’t learn that kind of thing in a class.

Be humble when someone edits your prose. Some of the rules you learned in school about grammar and punctuation are out of date or were actually never right. Editors call these old bogus rules superstitions or zombie rules. You won’t find them in any authoritative grammar or style book. True facts: It’s fine to end a sentence with a preposition. It’s fine to have a sentence fragment. It’s fine to start a sentence with “And” or “But.” It’s fine to use the passive voice.

People tend to think whatever English they learned in school is gospel and unchanging. They don’t think that about physics or biology or history, of course — only English.

MWW: You are also a published author of fiction. Tell us about your other books.

CS: Years ago I published a string of books for young children — fiction, biography, history, a tall tale in verse — and then after a long hiatus I wrote Eddie’s War, which is YA historical fiction. Although the characters and events are made up, I based the farm-life details on my father’s family farm, which I grew up visiting, and on details I found in Dad’s childhood diaries, which he wrote when he was 12-18. Recently I finished two middle-grade/YA manuscripts (not sure how that happened — I started them years apart), and now I’m beginning the long-dreaded search for an agent. Wish me luck! If I don’t find one, I’ll have to retire from advising on how to write a query letter.

Join Carol and the MWW Community to help you move forward with your stories!

Register for Virtual MWW20 here today!