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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!

Need help “Nailing the First Page”? Tracy Clark has advice!

Meet award-winning author Tracy Clark

Tracy Clark is the author of the Cass Raines PI series. The series, set in Chicago, features ex-homicide cop turned PI Cassandra Raines, a hard-driving African-American gumshoe who works the mean streets of the Windy City dodging cops, cons, killers and thugs.

Her debut novel, Broken Places, made Library Journal’s list of the Best Crime Fiction of 2018 and was shortlisted in the mystery category on the American Library Association’s 2019 Reading List. CrimeReads also named Cass Raines Best New PI of 2018. The novel also received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, a rave from Kirkus Review, and was nominated for a Lefty Award for Best Debut Novel, an Anthony Award for Best Debut Novel, and a Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel.

Her second Cass Raines novel, Borrowed Time, released in May 2019. Book three, What You Don’t See, recently released in May 2020.

A native Chicagoan, Tracy roots for the Cubs, the Sox, the Bears, the Blackhawks, the Chicago Shy and the Chicago Fire equally. She is member of Sisters in Crime and Sisters in Crime Chicagoland, Mystery Writers of America Midwest and International Thriller Writers. She is also a member of the Bouchercon National Board and secretary of her MWA local chapter.

Tracy’s sessions for MWW20 include:
  • Listening to The Voices In Your Head: about developing characters, main and secondary. Fleshing them out, giving them distinctive characteristics.
  • Panel: Outliner and Pantser? [Tracy Clark, Sarah Domet, Sarah Aronson, Moderator: Angela Jackson-Brown]
  • Nailing the First Page
  • Crafting Dynamic Dialogue
  • Panel: What No One Tells You About the Writing Life, But Should

Stephen Terrell, a member of the Midwest Writers Workshop Board of Directors, caught up with Tracy recently and interviewed her for this Q&A.

MWW:  Your first novel in the Cassandra Raines detective series was nominated for an Anthony, a Lefty Award and a Shamus Award for first novel. One of your topics at MWW2020 is “Listening to the Voices in Your Head” and developing characters. How did your character of Cassandra Raines come about? You’ve now written three books in the series. Has Cassandra changed from your initial concept, or was she fully formed in your head at creation?

TC: Cass Raines has been rattling around in my head, as a voice, as a character, almost fully formed since I was maybe twelve or thirteen. She popped up around about the time I started really getting into mysteries and reading them exclusively almost nonstop. I started with Nancy Drew, spunky, intrepid, progressed to Agatha Christie, then careened into the Golden Age of female crime writers in the early ’80s. I don’t think Cass has changed all that much in all that time. She’s still the same ferocious champion of the underdog she was when she presented herself to me, but I’ve got deeper understanding of her today than I ever could have had at thirteen. I understand her better today. Now I just go where she leads me.

MWW: Your stories are set in your hometown of Chicago (“Go Cubs”). How do you go about making your Chicago setting come alive for readers?

TC: Chicago’s a great city, and I work really hard to get it right, capturing the smells, the sights, the sounds, the corruption, the grit, the traffic snarls, the perennial nuisances that Chicagoans have to deal with. I use all of it to paint the picture and bring the city to life on the page. It takes a bit. I spend a lot of time on it. If a reader is familiar with Chicago, I want them to say, “Ah, I know that place. That’s exactly how it is.” If a reader knows nothing about the city, then I want them to get a sense of what they’re missing.

MWW:  Dialog is so important in your writing. You are teaching a class on “Crafting Dynamic Dialog.” What are the key points people listening to your presentation will be able to learn about improving their dialog?

TC: Dialog is key to revealing your character. How people speak, what they say, how they say it, tells you a great deal about them. But it is equally important what a character holds back. What he or she perhaps won’t say and how that can be conveyed in long pauses or short hesitations. All of that counts toward dialog. Every character has to want something. Not all characters are evolved enough to ask for it. Dialog therefore can be a delicate dance. Getting it right will assuredly elevate your story, muffing it will certainly kill it.

MWW: You are speaking on “Nailing the First Page,” which I think is one of the toughest tasks a writer faces. How do you know when you get it “write” or when you still need to re-write?

TC: For me, I equate it with hitting a tennis ball and getting that sweet spot on the racquet. That hit, that dead-center pop has a distinctive sound. You know the instant you hit the spot that you’ve hit it, and that the shot’s going to be good. It’s kind of the same with writing. Each sentence, each paragraph, each page has a rhythm to it. The words work or they don’t; your pace is slow or fast, your intent is conveyed or it isn’t. Your characters are revealed, their wants and needs expressed, or none of that is accomplished and you’ve lost your reader. And you know you’re done writing when all the elements of story work together, when you’ve hit that sweet spot. You can feel it. You can hear it when you read your work aloud, and every writer should. When you’ve gotten it right, your story will sing to you. That sounds goofy, but it’s an organic sort of thing

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

Register for Virtual MWW20 here today!

Explore how to live a more creative life | with Melissa Fraterrigo | MWW19

Meet fiction author Melissa Fraterrigo

Melissa Fraterrigo is the author of the novel  Glory Days  (University of Nebraska Press, 2017) which was named one of the Best Fiction Books of 2017 by the  Chicago Review of Books ; she is also the author of the short story collection  The Longest Pregnancy  (Livingston Press). Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in more than forty literary journals and anthologies from Shenandoah  and  The Massachusetts Review to story  South , and  Notre Dame Review . She teaches classes on the art and craft of writing at the Lafayette Writers’ Studio in Lafayette, Indiana.

During MWW19, July 25-26, Melissa will teach  The Write Start: Cultivating Creativity.”  In this session, Melissa explains, “You will learn how to turn your love for the written word into practical experience. Whether you are new to writing, have an idea you are interested in pursuing, or write regularly but need a reboot, in this class we will explore how to live a more creative life.”

On Friday morning, Melissa will teach  Finding Your Personal Essay Through Play” where participants will discover how form can be used to structure personal essays to reveal unexpected insights and create momentum through play. In the afternoon, she will present  Exploring the Novel-in-Stories.” She asks, ” What do  Olive Kitteridge  by Elizabeth Strout, Cathy Day’s  Circus in Winter  and  Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson have in common?” The answer: All are novels-in-stories, existing between a collection of stories and a novel. Those attending this session will leave with a clear idea of possible linkages in their fiction and how to build upon these for their own linked collection.

MWW alum and volunteer Stephen Terrell asked Melissa a few interview questions to help us learn a bit more about her as a writer and faculty member.

MWW: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

MF: I have always loved writing and penned my first book when I was in the first grade. It was called “The Littlest Pukin” (I think I was inspired by “The Littlest Angel”; pukin was actually supposed to be pumpkin) and I can still remember how glorious I felt flipping the pages of my book, showing it to my parents. I always felt a kinship with words and stories and in many ways, I think I was destined to work with stories in some fashion; only it took me a long time to get to where I am. Despite that, I’ve got to say I have the best job in the world.

 

MWW: What is the Lafayette Writers Studio?  How did it come about? What do you want people to know about the Lafayette Writers Studio?

MF: I taught high school and junior high English for three years after earning my bachelor’s degree. My first job out of college was teaching high school English in a small town in downstate Illinois where the job prospects were few and many of my students were from families that were struggling both financially and emotionally. I really liked my students and loved talking to them about literature, but during that year my grandmother passed and I did some hard thinking about how I wanted to spend my own days. I hadn’t forgotten the desire to be a writer, only I didn’t know how to be a writer and also pay bills.

Somewhere during that first year I told myself to just start writing–just a little bit. I found the more I wrote, the more I enjoyed it. That summer I took at class at the University of Illinois at Chicago–my first fiction class–and met two other women who were also interested in fiction and poetry. For three years we met on a monthly basis to share work with one another and offer each other feedback. I have no doubt that without their support I would not be where I am today. Writers need other writers, and these two friends provided the support and encouragement I so desperately desired.

I love my parents with all my heart, but they were children of parents who survived the Depression. Working toward a degree that would get you a job, which in turn would pay some solid salary mattered more than doing work that fulfilled. Fortunately, I listened to my gut and kept writing, following the thrum of excitement I felt each time I drafted a new story or had an idea for a piece.

I attended Bowling Green State University and met a fantastic cohort of writers and instructors of writing–most of whom I’m in contact with today. This community of writers was essential for building the “literary family” that I craved–folks who were also driven to create worlds from their imaginations. We encouraged each other and continue to do so.  I taught at Southern Utah University, Penn State Erie–all the while working on fine-tuning my short story collection, The Longest Pregnancy was published in 2006. With time, I shifted into freelance writing for different universities. However, I still missed teaching and three years ago established the Lafayette Writers’ Studio to combine my love for teaching with my desire to help others tell their stories. I started my forthcoming novel, Glory Days a few years before I opened the studio.

The Lafayette Writers’ Studio is a place where writers of all experiences and backgrounds can learn about the art and craft of writing in an intimate, encouraging environment. We offer a range of classes from one-night intensives to workshops that last several weeks. It’s really a wonderful place with amazing students from all walks of life.

 

MWW: Working at the Lafayette Writers Studio, what are the three biggest suggestions you have for writers looking to improve their craft?

MF: I encourage writers to read like a writer, and approach texts seeking answers to the questions they have about their own work and craft in general. Every writer is different and as such, no one approach is going to help each and every writer get words on the page. As a result, I encourage students to take the time to get know themselves and their process.

 

MWW: Can you compare the process you go through in writing a short story compared to a novel? What makes one story more appropriate for a short story and another suitable for a more extensive treatment in a novel?

MF: My first book,   The Longest Pregnancy,   was published in 2006. About 1/3 of the book was written as part of my graduate thesis at Bowling Green State University. The stories really were stand alone pieces and I was nearly finished with the book before I started to see how they might fit together. I started my novel,  Glory Days   a few years before I opened the Lafayette Writers’ Studio and the first chapter I wrote for the book–“Teensy’s Daughter” actually appears ¾ of the way through the book. I initially thought I was just writing a story, only after I finished drafting “Teensy’s Daughter” I continued to think about three of the characters–Gardner, Teensy, and his daughter Luann. So I wrote another story with Gardner and Teensy at a much earlier part in their lives and found that I still had more to uncover. I was absolutely fascinated by these characters and once I realized how the town of Ingleside was a part of the conflict of the book, I knew there was a whole novel to be unearthed. So to answer your question, I really think it begins with the author’s own interest in the story and whether it can be sustained.

 

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

MF: I keep a small notebook with me at all times and jot down ideas whenever they strike–it could be an arresting image or a word or lately, a lot of memories from my own childhood. Some writers call this rich content “composting.” Just like you might mix together certain ingredients to make a soil healthy, you can use elements of your life and what you find interesting to create memorable characters and situations.

 

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

MF: I love revision, I love the thrum of a new idea, I find structure immensely satisfying and there is nothing better than discovering a new writer who fuels my work. Yet the days are long and can be rather lonely. It’s important to surround yourself with other writers who can support and encourage you when the work isn’t going the way you initially envisioned.

 

MWW: I’ve seen Glory Days referred to as “Fly Over Fiction,” a term I’ve heard applied to other writing about middle America. Yet when I look at the wish list of literary agents, I never see “flyover” or “middle America” mentioned. Given that this is the Midwest Writers Workshop, do you think there is a place in the current fiction market for “flyover fiction”, that is, fiction that has its roots in the people, places, challenges and values of middle America? 

MF: I actually think there is an increasing interest in the Midwest as a place with its own identity, culture and values, which is quite separate from the coasts. That being said, I don’t sense that flyover fiction or Midwest literature is a concern of the big publishing houses. But smaller indie presses such as Nebraska University Press , Graywolf, Coffee House Press do not offer huge advances and therefore don’t have the same constraints as large publishing houses so they can pursue topics and approaches that appeal to different audiences, and this includes a newfound interest in work that is often overlooked such as flyover fiction.

 

MWW: Rejection is the most common shared experience among most writers. Do you have any advice for dealing with rejection from publications, agents or publishers? 

MF: I think it’s always important to keep in mind why you are writing. Are you writing because you want to become rich and famous? Are you writing to prove to your high school English teacher that you had more potential than the C- he gave you your sophomore year? While all of us dream of sharing our work with a wide audience, I think it’s much more realistic to think that the results of our efforts may not play out the way we imagine. The work you do must be the reward–publication, awards, all of those moments when you and your work are in the spotlight are fleeting. But the work is with you for the long haul. Try not to focus to much on those outside forces you cannot control and instead honor your relationship with your craft and your writing.

 

MWW: What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given about being a writer or about life in general?   What was the worst?

MF: Read everything you can get your hands on and don’t just read your genre–everyone should read poetry! Write! Put yourself on a writing schedule and commit to writing regularly. Even if you are only sitting at your desk twiddling your thumbs, the longer you sit there, the more ideas will come to you. As you begin to take note of those thoughts by jotting them down or mulling them over in your mind, your brain will send you even more ideas. Writing begins with paying attention to your world and your surroundings and choosing to be curious with your own thoughts and reflections. I think writing helps you be your best self-at least that’s what it continues to do for me.

 

MWW: Any last thoughts or comments that you want to share with those considering the MWW19?

MF: Come write with us!

Come to MWW19 and meet Melissa! Register here.

New online course! Show Not Tell with Shirley Jump

MWW Ongoing

Midwest Writers just experienced a successful Super Mini-conference, July 27-28, and while we’re planning our next events, we’re also continuing our mission to help writers improve their writing with our online courses.

MWW Ongoing is a series of courses taught by award-winning writing instructors, and everything happens online. From the convenience of your computer, on your own time schedule, you can participate in classes to take your writing to the next level.

SHOW NOT TELL is our latest MWW Ongoing course taught by one of our popular instructors, New York Times bestselling author Shirley Jump. It’s a two-week course with lessons, strategies, and exercises to strengthen and provoke emotion in your writing. Cost: $75.00 — course begins August 20!

SHOW NOT TELL is for people who are struggling to make their writing come alive with powerful characters, emotional storylines and memorable reads. If you are struggling to get readers to connect with your book, this course will help. This course will cover the difference between show and tell, how to find the telling in your manuscript, and the best ways to create more emotion on the page. Showing brings words to life and creates living, breathing characters.

Shirley will cover the basics of show not tell, including the key words to watch for, and the reasons for telling instead of showing in a manuscript. She will talk about pacing and backstory as well, because both are impacted by show not tell, and are integral to a well written book. By the end of this course, you will have the tools you need to create more powerful scenes and more evocative characters.

What This Course Specifically Teaches

  • Basics of show not tell
  • Determining where the telling is in your book
  • Changing telling to Showing
  • Creating more powerful characters and adding more emotion to key scenes

The course is broken down into two units. Each unit is accompanied by several handouts that build on the one before. You can start using the information immediately for your current work. Questions will be answered within the private Facebook group and in one Facebook live chat.

UNIT ONE: Available Monday, August 20th

Unit One will be about getting the basics down. We will start with discussing the difference between show not tell, how to find the sections of your work that are telling, and the basics of converting telling to showing. Students will be asked to look at their own work and revise to show more (feedback will be given in the private Facebook group).

  • Show Not Tell
  • Devil is in the Details
  • Passive vs Active
  • Enriching Your Descriptions
  • Scene Analysis

UNIT TWO: Available Monday, August 27th

Unit Two will take show not tell to a deeper level. We will discuss when to tell instead of show, how show not tell relates to backstory and pacing, and how a few key words can make a huge difference in a scene. Students will again look at their own work and revise to show more, with feedback in the private Facebook group.

  • Tension vs Conflict
  • Construct a More Powerful Scene
  • Scene Analysis
  • Before and After Backstory

And Join the community in the Facebook Group!

About the Instructor

When she’s not writing books, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shirley Jump competes in triathlons, mostly because all that training lets her justify mid-day naps and a second slice of chocolate cake. She’s published more than 60 books in 24 languages, although she’s too geographically challenged to find any of those countries on a map. Visit her website at www.ShirleyJump.com for author news and a booklist, and follow her on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/shirleyjump.author for giveaways and deep discussions about important things like chocolate and shoes.

REGISTER HERE!