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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!

What?!! ALL 23 sessions!

What? You’ll have access to ALL 23 sessions …

Yes. We have a need for community and now there’s the technology to create new community spaces for writers. No more choosing among breakout sessions online. Attend ALL 23 sessions live or watch recorded sessions for up to one month later. You can even rewatch sessions you find particularly helpful. [Check out the sessions here.]

 

What? You’ll save $150 because the cost has been reduced to $249 …

Yes. Do the math. That’s quite a bargain per session!

 

What? You’ll meet a community of writers through the private Facebook Group …

Yes. Join this all-star faculty line up and the expert workshops we have planned and move forward with your writing. MWW offers a way to build community among writers during this odd time in which we find ourselves. Let’s live Zoom the sessions together; let’s share on the private FB group with an amazing community of writers. [Check out the faculty here.]

With the COVID-19 pandemic, not only are many people’s work lives being disrupted, but their very capacity to focus, prioritize, and stay creative and buoyant also are challenged. But times of surprising challenge also give us the opportunity to center our attention and create in new ways.

Mary Oliver asks us, with your one wild and precious life?

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

 

Something, I hope, more than worry.

Something, I hope, more than hoard or blame.

Something more than hole yourself up in a cabin and wait for this thing to blow over.This crisis is an opportunity to create something new. To step out into a “virtual” conference.

Because the world has changed and keeps changing, and it will need your contribution, your words, your stories. In a week or a month or a year from now, how will you look back on this time? Will you have used your opportunity to contribute something to this new world? Or will you have only enjoyed an abundance of hand sanitizer? We’ve all probably watched too much Netflix, called too many friends to validate us, refreshed our social media feed too many times. Now it’s time to get to work. To do something. To pursue your dream.

And I invite you to join us for Virtual MWW20.

And now that it’s all coming together…I can’t believe how freaking fun, valuable, and powerful this virtual event is going to be!

Register for Virtual MWW20 here today!

Yep. We’re going virtual, too

Registration Re-Open NOW! MWW20 Moves To Online Format!

MWW20 Virtual Conference

Monday – Saturday

July 20-25, 2020

We’ve been working on this since the day we found out we’d have to cancel our planned in-person Midwest Writers Workshop at the Ball State Alumni Center due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We went from being so disappointed and sad about having to cancel MWW20 in Muncie, to seeing this as incredible potential for us to help lots and lots of both aspiring and advanced writers like you through a virtual conference!
And now that it’s all coming together… we can’t believe how freaking fun, valuable, and powerful this MWW20 virtual event is going to be!
We have an all-star line up of authors and valuable sessions!
“Virtual MWW20” is now SIX days … so get ready! 

We have designed an online version of MWW that offers plenty of instruction, networking, and the sense of community that makes MWW so special.

Our online conference features:

From July 20-25, a total of 23 sessions, via Zoom video conferencing. The sessions will feature a variety of content that will be determined by the individual faculty member and may feature lecture, possibly prompt work, and vital, informative, enjoyable discussions that build your skills as a writer.

MWW20 features a remarkable faculty who know their stuff, providing information for both aspiring and practicing writers at all stages of their journey.

**Instruction led by renowned faculty for the genres of:

  • novel (Lori Rader-Day, Sarah Domet)
  • mystery (Tracy Clark)
  • middle grade/young adult (Sarah Aronson)
  • nonfiction/memoir (Kelcey Parker Ervick)
  • And special sessions with
    • Carol Saller – contributing editor to The Chicago Manual of Style
    • Jamie Thomas – director of operations at Women & Children First Bookstore in Chicago

 **“Happy Hour with Lori” (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) Lori Rader-Day: An Autopsy of a Novel — Lori will walk you through her entire process for writing her novels. Session participants are encouraged—not required—to read The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day prior to MWW20. Lori may need to talk about some spoilers to tell this story. Reading the book prior to the conference will help attendees understand Lori’s writing process without spoiling the plot twists. [Support Midwest Writers Workshop by purchasing The Lucky One with Amazon Smile! Click here.]

**Private Facebook Group for camaraderie and to build connections with other participants and faculty.

**Can’t attend all the sessions live? No problem. MWW 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 MWW20 and for the following four weeks.

It’s important to keep our MWW writing community as active as we can during this pandemic and that’s why this online version of MWW can be more important than ever to helping nurture aspiring and accomplished writers to improve their craft and achieve their publishing goals.

The cost for our Virtual MWW20 experience has been reduced to $249.

No more choosing among breakout sessions. Attend ALL 24 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!

At an on-site conference, your head can be spinning with all of the new information. Our online conference gives writers a place to go back and revisit and catch some of the content that they missed.

 

We’re still offering our **NEW Catapult Your Writing Workshop. This intensive will expose writers to the critique process in a positive environment and foster the idea of collaboration as an imperative skill. Learning the fine art of critiquing will prepare writers to work with editors, understanding that criticism is not personal, and looking at their own work in a clearer, more honest way. Topics addressed in the workshop include craft, style, plot, characterization, grammar, and more. This community experience will expose writers to each other at all stages of the development. Every work will be considered by its intention in a supportive and safe environment with the focus on making the manuscripts the best they can be in the time shared. Students must apply. Limit 12.

    • CATAPULT YOUR WRITING WORKSHOP: July 20-25, 2020 (9-11 am, 1:15-2:15 pm)
      • $299 [includes access to all Virtual MWW20 sessions]
      • Submissions must be emailed by June 1, 2020.

Do you dream of getting your story out of your heart and into a book? It’s time to turn that dream into reality. Let’s get those words onto paper and craft your story into a powerful offering.

That’s the vision behind our mission statement and our passion to help writers; MWW20 is designed to guide you to the next step in your writing journey.

Whether you’re a beginner with zero experience, or you’ve been writing for years, you’ll want the collective wisdom of our conference faculty. These authors will empower you to dream, write, and publish the story inside you.

Join us during the week to be inspired and equipped to take the next step in your writing journey.

Find the entire schedule: here.

Find the faculty bios: here.

Register HERE!

 

Pitch to Jennifer Grimaldi at MWW 2020 Agent Fest!

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Jennifer Grimaldi

Jennifer is one of eight literary agents coming to the 2020 MWW Agent Fest, March 13-14 at the Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, Indiana.

Raised on a steady diet of Holly Black & Philip Pullman, Jennifer Grimaldi has always gravitated toward otherworldly, fantastical novels that reflect our own world’s past and present. At St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne, she edited and acquired S. Jae-Jones’ New York Times bestseller Wintersong–a Labyrinth-inspired gothic YA–and worked with numerous bestselling and award-winning authors such as Kate Forsyth. Jennifer’s broad exposure to the domestic and foreign publishing markets as a scout with Barbara Tolley & Associates further shaped her taste for the eclectic. She is now an agent with Chalberg & Sussman, where she first started her publishing career in 2012.

Although the titles on her shelves have changed over the years, the content has not: they are still stuffed with magic and spaceships, fairytales and faraway lands. Across all genres, Jennifer loves strong, voice-driven novels, dark and romantic themes, and books that make her think–and learn. She is particularly excited by books that explore gender and sexuality, especially those with diverse, LGBTA+ leads, and own-voice writers.

Aspects sure to delight her include: cities and urban-planning, anecdotal histories, that trope where there were supposed to be two rooms at the hotel but they’re all booked up so the leads have to share, spies, thieves, mythological retellings, witches just trying to get by, weird obsessions, and puns.

Jennifer’s Wish List:

She is looking for historicals, romance, horror, and young adult and adult sci-fi and fantasy.

MWW agent assistant Gina Klaff, senior Creative Writing major at Ball State University and fiction editor for The Broken Plate, interviewed Jennifer about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest.

MWW: Let’s start with a question that might help some of the writers who may be attending the Fest. Are there any specific elements that you look for in a manuscript that help you determine whether or not you’d like to work with that story, or do you approach every manuscript differently?

Every manuscript is different, which is why most agents request a query letter along with pages to get a sense of the plot, themes, and writing style of the project. I don’t expect writers to be experts at query writing, so passes at that level for me are usually very basic: I’m not interested in representing that story, or I don’t like the hook, or it’s something I’ve seen done before. Once I move to the pages, I make faster and more cutthroat determinations. These can be based on character interactions, plot, genre tropes, writing, and so on, and are very specific to each type of project. I expect the first pages of a MS to be the most heavily edited, so if I sense problems, I’ll pass on a project very quickly.

MWW: Do you have any advice for new writers on how to query, or how to approach you or other agents?

The most important step is to do your research, both into your own project to correctly determine its genre and comparison titles, and then into agents who you feel will best be able to represent your project. The agents you are querying should be experts in your genre, and someone you would be excited to build a partnership with. The best advice I can offer is to be kind, professional, and respect boundaries. Remember that agents are people too, and they should be as excited to represent your work as you are to have them representing you!

MWW: Are there any specific tropes that make you happy whenever you see them? 

Absolutely! I have a few specific ones listed in my bio, but off the top of my head, I’m also a big fan of bodyguard romances, clever inversions of traditional narratives, villain-centric stories, and explorations of mythology and morality.

MWW: What kind of manuscript or story have you not seen for some time (or at all) and would like to work with in the upcoming year?

Oh, this is a tough one! I’d love to see more sci-fi dealing with robots/AI and the general question of what makes us human. On a completely different tack, I’d also love to see a fun murder-mystery romp as the backdrop to a rom-com or a YA narrative, in the vein of “Knives Out” or Clue.

MWW: And since we’re talking about stories, what’s a book you’ve recently read that you enjoyed?

I recently picked up A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, which is sort of a space opera-meets-political intrigue with a fascinating mystery and extremely compelling heroine. It’s a wonderful read.

****
In addition to hearing pitches and critiquing query letters, Jennifer will present this session at the 2020 MWW Agent Fest:
  • “360 View of the Path to Publication” –  A look at the full process of publishing a book from a current literary agent and former book scout and editor. This session will cover what you can expect from the submission process, the selling and retaining of rights and subrights, the marketing and publicity a traditional publisher can offer, and what comes next.
Come and meet Jennifer!

Register Today!

Pitch to Patricia Nelson at MWW 2020 Agent Fest!

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Patricia Nelson

Patricia is one of eight literary agents coming to the  2020 MWW Agent Fest, March 13-14 at the Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, Indiana.

MWW agent assistant Kate Champlin, Ph.D. in English from Ball State University, interviewed Patricia about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest.

MWW: What should a new author remember to include in a pitch? Is there an element in the query or the description of the book that will especially catch your attention?
PN: I’m always looking for four things in a pitch: character, catalyst, conflict, stakes. In other words:
  • Who is your main character and what’s interesting about them?
  • What happens that changes everything for them?
  • Now what choices do that have to make, and what obstacles do they have to overcome?
  • And finally, what will happen if they fail or make the wrong choices?
In an in-person pitch, being concise and straightforward is key to making the best use of your time, so if you can sum up the answer to each question in a sentence or two, that will give us a great foundation to start our conversation.

 

MWW: What questions should new authors ask during the first meeting with the literary agent? (Some new authors might not know the right questions to ask.)
PN: Usually in a pitch we’ll just be talking about your book, so no need to worry too much about preparing questions in advance. I suppose you could ask “do you have any suggestions for how I might strengthen my pitch or the story?” or “does this strike you as a premise that would work in the current market?”… but honestly, I’ll probably volunteer that advice unprompted!

 

MWW: Are there any particular character tropes or plot points that might cause you to reject a pitch?
PN: I personally tend to shy away from stories with a great deal of violence, and from stories where the catalyst for the main character’s growth is a rape or assault. And of course, any pitches in a genre or category I don’t represent will be a no-go for me.

 

MWW: Are there any character types or plots that you feel are overrepresented in the market?
PN: The market is so tough right now that anything that doesn’t feel completely fresh is difficult to sell. So your best bet is to read widely, and then think about what you aren’t seeing and write the story only you could write. Because of the long lead time between when a book is acquired by a publisher and when it releases, if you’re trying to write to trends, you’re generally already too late.

 

MWW: How many new queries do you receive every year? How many of these projects do you choose to represent?
PN: I receive hundreds of queries each month, and generally sign no more than five new clients in any given year. It’s important to me to keep my client list relatively small so that I can give a lot of attention to every single person I represent, so when I’m deciding whether to take on someone new, the bar is very high. I’m only looking for authors who I feel like I would be heartbroken to NOT work with.

 

MWW: Our interview model also includes space for a brief biography and a wish list. What should the new authors at Agent Fest know about you? What types of manuscripts are you currently looking for?
PN: I’ve been a literary agent with Marsal Lyon Literary Agency since 2014, representing young adult, middle grade, and select adult fiction. My clients include bestselling and award-winning authors, and my recent sales include books placed with Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Candlewick and Simon & Schuster, among others. I received my bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and hold master’s degrees in English Literature from the University of Southern California and in Gender Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Although I’m currently based in San Diego, I’m actually a Midwesterner originally — I grew up in Michigan.
My wish list includes:
  • beautifully written, page-turning, unique young adult and middle grade fiction across genres, with particular interest in contemporary/realistic novels, contemporary fantasy, and magical realism
  • contemporary women’s fiction of both the upmarket (book club) and commercial (beach read) varieties
  • historical women’s fiction set in the 20th century, especially if it explores the untold story of a real historical figure
  • sexy, smart adult contemporary and historical romance with a big hook (but note that I do NOT represent category romance, paranormal romance, or romantic suspense)
  • novels by underrepresented authors across all categories/genres that I represent
In addition to hearing pitches and critiquing query letters, Patricia will present these sessions at the 2020 MWW Agent Fest:
  • “Rookie Submission Mistakes (and how to avoid them)” Learn about common pitfalls of queries and first chapters, along with a crash course in best practices for catching an agent’s eye. Whether you’re just starting to prepare to seek an agent or are looking to troubleshoot a query that’s not working, this session offers tips and tricks to help take your submission materials to the next level.
  • “Capturing the YA and MG Voice” – Agents and editors often say that they’re looking to “fall in love with the voice” when they’re considering a project. But what does that even mean? What is voice, and how can you make yours stronger? In this session, we will focus specifically on honing a voice that jumps off the page for the competitive young adult and middle grade markets.

Come and meet Patricia!

Register Today! (Limited number of Query Letter Critiques available)

Pitch to Kerry D’Agostino at MWW 2020 Agent Fest!

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Kerry D’Agostino

Kerry is one of eight literary agents coming to the  2020 MWW Agent Fest, March 13-14 at the Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, Indiana.

Kerry D’Agostino is a literary agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd. She received her bachelor’s degree in English from Bowdoin College, her masters in Art in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education, and her certificate in publishing from the Columbia Journalism School. She started at Curtis Brown in 2011 as assistant to Tim Knowlton and Holly Frederick in the Film and Television Department. After some time as a film and audio rights associate, she also began assisting Peter Ginsberg. In addition to her continued work with Peter, Kerry now represents authors of literary and commercial fiction, and select narrative nonfiction. She is particularly interested in work that is voice driven, accessible, and authentic. Above all, she is drawn to work that either introduces her to someone, somewhere, or something new, or makes her see something old in a new way. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

Kerry’s Wish List:

She is looking for literary and commercial fiction and select narrative nonfiction. She is particularly interested in work that is voice driven, accessible, and authentic.

MWW agent assistant Allison Akers interviewed Kerry about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest.

MWW: What are some do’s and don’t’s for authors who may be attending an agent pitch fest for the first time?

KD: The Midwest Writers Workshop website has some great advice for attending agent pitch fests, and I second all of it; it’s important to know who you are meeting with, and it’s also crucial to practice your pitch, on your own and also with those you can trust to share honest feedback. Be prepared to have a conversation about your work outside of the pitch, too: what brought you to the idea? What did your writing process involve? What do you consider to be good comp titles for your work? What kind of work might you want to pursue next? As far as “don’ts” go, it’s completely understandable that this can be a nerve-wracking experience, but don’t be too nervous. Agents work in publishing because they love books, and they attend these conferences because they’re excited to discover new talent. Both parties entering the conversation are hoping for a potential match! That said, another don’t is to not be too discouraged if your project is not a perfect match for the agent. Literature is so subjective, and just because the work is not right for one person does not mean it will not be a fit for the next. 

MWW: In your agent bio, you say you are interested in work that is “voice driven, accessible, and authentic,” as well as work that introduces you to new people, places, ideas, or gives a fresh take on an old concept. What work have you run across–either through your clients or leisure reading-that displays these qualifications?

KD: The best way to familiarize yourself with an agent’s taste is to study the books that they represent. My clients’ spring publications give a good sense of my interests: Leesa Cross-Smith’s  So We Can Glow is a gorgeous short story collection exploring the complicated hearts of girls and women; in Nancy Wayson Dinan’s  Things You Would Know if You Grew Up Around Here, a young woman sets out in the aftermath of the 2015 Memorial Day floods to find her missing friend; and with  Before She Was Helen, Caroline B. Cooney takes us to the heart of a retirement community to discover long-buried secrets in her first mystery for adults. Each of the protagonists across these books is deeply relatable in some way, but each also simultaneously brings me into a new landscape of some kind, whether physical or emotional.

MWW: Do you gravitate toward a particular genre or story/memoir structure within the categories of commercial fiction, literary fiction, and nonfiction?

KD: I would not say that I’m drawn to a particular structure, but across each of these categories I’m consistently looking for work that blends a deep examination of character with narrative momentum. I’m always intrigued when I see a writer playing with structure–Leslie Pietrzyk’s  Silver Girl is a great example of this, where we start with The Middle, move to The Beginning, then to the End, and then finally to Where Every Story Truly Begins–but the structure has to be purposeful, in service of the story rather than vice versa. In terms of genre, while much of my list does focus on upmarket/literary fiction for adult readers, I am also excited to be working with both authors of young adult literature and also authors of mystery/suspense.

MWW: What are some reasons that you reject a pitch, query letter, or manuscript?

KD: The most common reason that I reject a pitch, query letter, or manuscript is that I simply do not feel enough of a connection with it to feel confident that I would be that work’s most passionate advocate. There can always be unforeseen challenges in publishing, and when faced with those challenges an author deserves both an agent and an editor who shares their complete enthusiasm and their complete vision for their work. If I don’t have that vision, then I am not the right match for that work.

MWW: What are you most excited about for the Midwest Writers Workshop?

KD: I am looking forward to meeting with writers and learning about their projects! It would of course be particularly exciting to connect with a potential match, but either way I always enjoy feeling immersed in a creative community and the conversations such a community fosters.

In addition to hearing pitches and critiquing query letters, Kerry will present these sessions at the 2020 MWW Agent Fest:

  • “Six Steps from Query to Publication” – This session provides a general overview of the publication process, with steps that are broken down into the following: The Query; Signing with an Agent; Submission to Editors; Negotiating the Contract; Preparing for Publication; and finally, Publication itself. Tips for understanding and navigating each stage are included
  • “Subsidiary Rights” – This session explores the range of rights that can be involved in any one publishing contract, including print rights, digital rights, foreign language rights, UK rights, audio rights, and dramatic rights. Learn what each of these rights represent, and learn about the advantages of granting them to a publisher versus the advantages of reserving them.

Come and meet Kerry!

Register soon for the Early Bird Registration Cost! (Limited number of Query Letter Critiques available)

Pitch to Abby Saul at MWW 2020 Agent Fest!

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Abby Saul

Abby is one of eight literary agent coming to the 2020 MWW Agent Fest, March 13-14 at the Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, Indiana.

Abby founded The Lark Group after a decade in publishing at John Wiley & Sons, Sourcebooks, and Browne & Miller Literary Associates. She’s worked with and edited bestselling and award-winning authors as well as major brands. At each publishing group she’s been a part of, Abby also has helped to establish ebook standards, led company-wide forums to explore new digital possibilities for books, and created and managed numerous digital initiatives.A zealous reader who loves her iPad and the ebooks on it, she still can’t resist the lure of a print book. Abby’s personal library of beloved titles runs the gamut from literary newbies and classics, to cozy mysteries, to sappy women’s fiction, to dark and twisted thrillers. She’s looking for great and engrossing adult commercial and literary fiction. A magna cum laude graduate of Wellesley College, Abby spends her weekends – when she’s not reading – cooking and hiking with her husband and son. Find her @BookySaul on Twitter.

Abby’s Wish List:

She is looking for adult fiction only in the following genres: mystery, thriller, suspense, women’s fiction (upmarket and commercial), historical fiction, and select literary fiction. (No science fiction or fantasy; no Jack Reacher-esque thrillers, ditto talking animals in mysteries. She does like works of fiction that are character-driven and smart.

MWW agent assistant Briana Rooke interviewed Abby about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest. Brianna is a senior English major at Ball State University. She also serves as an editorial assistant for Hope for Women magazine and a creative nonfiction editor for Ball State’s literary magazine The Broken Plate.

MWW: What are some do’s and don’t’s that you would recommend to authors who might be attending the festival for the first time?

AS: Do: listen, learn, and mingle. Events like this are incredible opportunities to realize you are not in this alone, and to start to demystify the “I’ve written a book, now what?!” feeling that often comes at the start of the publishing process. Connect with your fellow writers and the event faculty! Take it all in!

Don’t: believe everything you hear, and don’t be afraid. Publishing is a subjective business, and you’re going to hear some contradictory information. You’ll have to digest and figure out what makes sense for you and your path. And don’t be afraid to mingle – we’re all bookish people! When in doubt, ask your fellows about what they’re currently reading.

Do: be excited about your manuscript, if you’re pitching. If you aren’t, who will be?

Don’t: be so excited about your book that you pitch an agent in the line to the bathroom.

MWW: What are some elements that make stories stand out to you? What characteristics do you look for in fiction manuscripts?

AS: I have certain plot things that I always love – family secrets, locked rooms, dual timelines, exciting and tear-jerking finales, a sense of history and the book’s place in the larger scheme of life, etc – but the most important things, to me, are harder to define and they defy plot. These are characters who feel real, a world that I get lost in, and incredible, unputdownable writing. Those latter elements will make me fall for a book that doesn’t tick many of my “plot” boxes, and they can only come from honing your craft, getting more reads that you think your manuscript needs, and editing editing editing.

MWW: On the flip side, are there any elements that make you immediately dismiss a manuscript?

AS: Plot-wise, FBI or CIA agents running around while things blow up or killer POVs are not for me! I’ll also stop reading when a book is racist or sexist (and, oh boy, does that happen more often than you think!)

MWW: Your wish list states that you’re looking for “mystery, thriller, suspense, women’s fiction (upmarket and commercial), historical fiction, and select literary fiction.” What are some examples of the types of literary fiction that you are looking for?

AS: I’m looking for realistic and transportive literary fiction, grounded in the messy reality of human lives (past or present). Some examples of recent-ish literary projects I wish I had worked on:  The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai,  The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry,  The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman,  When All is Said by Anne Griffin,  A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

MWW: Finally, a fun question! It sounds like you have a diverse personal library…. What is your favorite book on your shelves?

AS: This is NOT a fun question! I have too many favorites to pick just one, and the list keeps growing as more incredible books get published every year. I would have to categorize by genre and subgenre (ie, favorite recent mystery v. favorite classic mystery v. favorite recent mystery, American-set v. favorite recent mystery, Scottish v. etc etc etc) and I would never finish. I will bypass succumbing to the panic this question induces by saying that I do like introducing people to some of the “forgotten” classic authors whom I adore (Ngaio Marsh, Barbara Pym, Josephine Tey, EF Benson, Nancy Mitford).

In addition to hearing pitches and critiquing query letters, Abby will present these sessions at the 2020 MWW Agent Fest:
  • “Please Read My Manuscript: Quick Tips for Query Questions”
  • “Finding, Working with, and Keeping an Agent”

Come and meet Abby!  

 

Register soon for the Early Bird Registration Cost! (Limited number of Query Letter Critiques available)

Get help to build authentic lives for your characters | MWW19

Come meet author Cole Lavalais …

Cole Lavalais’ work can be found in the Chicago Tribune, Obsidian, Apogee, Warpland, Tidal Basin Review, Aquarius Press, and others. Her novel, Summer of the Cicadas, was published by Willow Books in 2016. She is a fellow of the Kimbilio Center for Black Fiction, VONA and the Callaloo Writing Workshops. She’s been awarded writing residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and The Noepe Center for the Literary Arts. She holds a M.F.A. from Chicago State University and a PhD. from University of Illinois at Chicago. She has taught writing for over twelve years and is the current Director of the Chicago Writers Studio and a faculty member of the Chicago State University M.F.A. program.

Cole’s sessions for MWW19 include:

  • Building Authentic Lives – This workshop will introduce you to strategies to imagine and develop compelling and authentic characters who leap off of the page.
  • Short Story 101 – This workshop will introduce you to the basic tools every good short story writer uses to create engaging and unique fiction. We will discuss plot, point of view, setting, dialogue, and character development.
  • Panel: Writing Beyond Your Experiences – Ashley Hope Pérez, moderator. As writers, we are always making a leap outside of our own experiences, but doing so responsibly is especially important when we are engaging in narrative with communities we aren’t part of. What are the dos and don’ts of creating a diverse world in your stories? How does this effort matter to the quality of your writing? (Mitchell L.H. Douglas, Cole Lavalais, Larry Sweazy)

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

MWW/GW:  Can you tell me more about your background and how you got into writing fiction?

Cole: I started writing about 20 years ago. I was working on my Masters degree in psychology, and my thesis supervisor mentioned something about writing a book based on my thesis research, and I got really excited at the mention of me writing a book. And I knew right then I was going to write a book, but it wasn’t going to be based on my research. Soon after I began writing my first novel.

MWW/GW: You write short stories and you published your first novel, Summer of the Cicadas, in 2016. Which style of writing comes more naturally to you-short stories or novel writing? Or do you enjoy writing both equally?

Cole: I didn’t really have a lot of exposure to short story collections growing up, so most of my models were novels. I only really began focusing on short stories after I finished my first novel because I didn’t have the energy to commit to my characters that a novel requires.  I figured in a shorter genre, I could write about them and be done with them in a couple of months.

MWW/GW: Where do you seek inspiration for your stories? Is there anything you do to generate ideas, other than wait for your “muse” to appear?

Cole: Luckily, I have never had a shortage of ideas for stories. I have more ides than I have time to write. Sometimes they come from a story I hear in passing or sometimes they come from those close to me. I’ve also been known to just make things up completely. I’m really good about unplugging in public, so I can watch and listen to the people around me. You’d be surprised to see the types of stories that will find you out and about in your every day life.

MWW/GW: One of your upcoming sessions at Midwest Writers 2019 is titled “Short Story 101”. I’ve heard it said that writing a short story is the perfect place to begin your writing career. Do you agree with that opinion? 

Cole: I do. The short story genre is the perfect place to hone your writing skills. If you can tell a whole entire story in 10 pages or 5 pages or 1 page, you are ready to tell a story in 300 pages. Writing the short story well teaches you about story structure and language that is easily translatable to longer genres.

MWW/GW: You were born and raised in Chicago, and you’re a founding director of the Chicago Writers Studio. Can you share your thoughts about the literary scene there? It seems like it’s really taken off, in recent years especially.

Cole: Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, so things happening in one part of the city, aren’t really accessible to the other parts of the city. While the literary scene has definitely spread in the last five years, we can really do better supporting and hosting events all over the city.

MWW/GW: Can you share with us anything about what you are working on right now?

Cole: I’m currently working on a short story collection set in Chicago in the early 80’s and a novel set in a small town in Alabama.

MWW/GW: And lastly, when you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing? 

Cole: Sleeping, eating, and walking my dogs.

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Critically acclaimed YA author Ashley Hope Pérez | MWW19

Meet YA author Ashley Hope Pérez

Ashley is a critically acclaimed author of young adult novels and teaches world literatures at The Ohio State University. Her most recent novel  Out of Darkness  received a Printz Honor Award for Literary Excellence and won the 2016 Tomás Rivera Book Award and the 2016 Américas Award. It was also named a “best book of 2015” by Kirkus Reviews  and  School Library Journal  and was selected by  Booklist magazine as one of “50 Best YA Books of All Time.” Ashley’s other novels include  What Can’t Wait  and  The Knife and the Butterfly . She lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she enjoys all four seasons and tries to keep up with her two sons, Liam Miguel and Ethan Andrés. Visit her online at  http://www.ashleyperez.com/.

Ashley’s sessions include:  Organic Plot Development ( a discovery-based approach to shaping your narrative’s direction and getting characters into action); Get Inspired, Find Time to Write, and Be Happy While You’re Doing It (Ashley & author Alisa Alering); and she will moderate the panel Writing Beyond Your Experiences (with Mitchell L.H. Douglas, Cole Lavalais, Larry Sweazy). Her Friday morning Buttonhole the Expert topic for discussion is: Engaging diversity and difference in fiction: Craft, research, and responsibility.

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

MWW/GW: How did your writing career begin?

AHP: I had several professors encourage me during my college years, but I became a published writer because I found my audience. This happened when I started teaching English and ESL in Houston. Besides meeting all the standards and getting my students ready to have a serious chance at completing college, I wanted them to discover the pleasure of reading, a notion that was pretty foreign to most of my students. As my kids told me about what did or didn’t engage them, I learned that many of them felt “their story” was missing from the library shelves. My first novel, What Can’t Wait, incorporates many of the stories they shared with me, and I finished the first draft just in time to give it to my last group of students (all seniors) for graduation. My students were my first readers, and their excitement still tops every success I’ve had since.

MWW/GW: One of your MWW19 sessions is on the topic of revision-how it’s not for the faint of heart. What have you learned about revising over the course of your career as an author?

AHP: For me, writing is really all about rewriting. I cannot express to you how horrendous my first drafts can be–shapeless, overwritten, awkward. But that doesn’t matter, because once I have something with characters, and something like a beginning, a middle, and an end, I can revise and revise and revise.

For most of my novels there have been about ten substantial revisions, and for most of these rounds, I start typing in a new document rather than just making changes to the old file. Doing this helps me to write new scenes or rewrite ones that aren’t working.

MWW/GW: What are your tips for how to manage your time and still work on your craft?

AHP: Be sure to sleep. It sounds obvious, but often when we’re overtaxed, we think that stealing hours from sleep will help us get more done. In the end, it only sabotages the next day’s productivity. Also, map out goals week by week and month by month. I try to have a semester or year plan and a five-year plan. Although achieving a goal often takes longer than we expect, putting it down on paper brings us a smidge closer to making the daily choices that will turn the aspiration into a reality.

MWW/GW: Your most recent book, the award-winning Out of Darkness, is a story about segregation, love, and family, set against the backdrop of a Texas school explosion in 1937. What drew you to want to write historical fiction?

AHP: I really wanted to shed light on an event that occurred close to home and also to use that project to shine some light on the experiences of minoritized people, which have too often been relegated to the margins of mainstream histories or erased altogether. We all need to engage with these stories.

Also, I think that readers of all ages benefit from the chance to recognize how many of the “givens” in our society can be changed. Historical fiction doesn’t just show us how bad (or good) the past was; it dramatizes different ways of living, doing, relating, learning. Those differences in the past remind us of the possibility of change in the future. When we get that we are, individually and collectively, a work-in-progress, it’s possible to begin talking about how our society needs to grow and change if we are to envision a more just future.

MWW/GW: What makes being a writer gratifying to you?

AHP: After they read an early draft of my first book What Can’t Wait, a couple of my former students wrote me these incredibly powerful, moving letters. One of them said:

This is the first book that I have ever read from beginning to end. There are so many things here that I have never seen in a book before . . . There were lots of times I stopped reading a book, but I didn’t want to stop reading this book.

He was one of my students who struggled most to care about what he was reading, so it was very moving that he took the time not only to read the book but also to let me know what it had meant to him. Even if the book had never been published, it was already worth it in that moment because I had a reader for whom the book was a gateway experience. And I think that’s what I love: for my books to be gateway drugs for readers, to make them want to read more, because they’ve experienced something they hadn’t experienced before.

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

AHP: Although I’m sure I’ll be back to writing novels in the future, I’ve been working a bit more in shorter form pieces and some creative non-fiction, like a forthcoming piece that will appear in the Rural Voicesanthology. The book I want to write next is set “now,” and there are some ways that the present political and social moment simply feels too unstable for me to predict how my characters’ lives will unfold.

MWW/GW: And finally, when you’re not writing, what could we find you doing?

AHP: I’m a full-time literature professor at The Ohio State University, so that takes up some minutes of my days. I also love cooking lavish breakfasts, collaging notebooks, and taking walks with my sons Liam Miguel and Ethan Andrés. Columbus has a ridiculous number of fancy ice cream places (I love Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream and Whit’s Frozen Custard), so making those rounds also keeps us busy!

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