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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.

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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.

Still time to register! Two weeks to go. Do this thing.

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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!

Register Today! Do this thing.

Click here to register.

 

Creativity = Novelty x Utility

Meet MWW19 faculty member Bryan Furuness!

Bryan Furuness is the author of The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson, a novel. His next novel, Do Not Go On, will come out in the winter of 2019. With Michael Martone, he is the co-editor of Winesburg, Indiana, an anthology. His next anthology, My Name was Never Frankenstein: And Other Classic Adventure Tales Remixed, will be forthcoming from Break Away Books in the fall of 2018. His stories have appeared in Ninth Letter, Sycamore Review, Southeast Review, Hobart, and elsewhere. His essays have appeared in Brevity, Nashville Review, and Barrelhouse, among other venues. His work has been anthologized in New Stories from the Midwest, Not Like the Rest of Us: An Anthology of Contemporary Indiana Writers, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and elsewhere. He is a recipient of the Tennessee Williams Scholarship in fiction from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a finalist for the Society of Midland Authors award, and a winner of the Midwest Short Fiction contest. He holds an MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers and has edited for several literary magazines and small presses, including Booth, On Earth As it Is, Engine Books, and Pressgang, the small press he founded at Butler in 2012. He lives in Indianapolis, where he teaches at Butler University and serves on the board of Engine Books.

Bryan’s MWW19 sessions include:

  • Session #3: Intro to Editing – A session about global editing and line editing, including exercises that can help students edit the work of other writers or revise their own work.
  • Session #3: Forming a Writing Habit – Figuring out your own ideal creative process and starting a sustainable writing practice.
  • Session #3: Reading like a Writer – Once you develop this way of seeing how stories are built, every text will become a teacher.

Bryan is also a member of the Manuscript Evaluation Team. Here’s your opportunity to have an author and editor evaluate your manuscript pages!

Jama Kehoe Bigger, MWW Director, interviewed Bryan for this installment of our MWW19 faculty Q&A.

MWW: You have a page “Notes on Creativity” on your website. What do believe are the components of creativity?

BF: Here’s a simple formula, straight from the pages of Creativity 101 by James Kauffman: Creativity = Novelty x Utility

“Novelty” means new or different. “Utility” is a little less obvious-here it’s talking about how appropriate the creation is for the situation.

Finally, note the multiplication sign. If either novelty or utility are a zero, the whole thing is an airball.

For example: I ask you for a story. In response, you slowly push a banana up your nose.

Novel? Sure. Task-appropriate? Uh, no. Therefore, not creative.

(For a slightly more developed take on this topic, see this post. And if you like this kind of thing, you can sign up for my newsletter here and get a few short posts about creativity delivered to your inbox every three weeks.)

MWW: Since you are an author and an editor, what do you see as the common traps for aspiring writers?

BF: I’ll give you one that’s been on my mind lately: overestimating the amount of talent it takes to write a book, and underestimating the time and effort and sheer persistence that it takes.

(This miscalculation isn’t exclusive to the writing world, by the way. See also this article with a very explain-y title: “People Underestimate the Value of Persistence for Creative Performance“)

Here’s a weird disconnect. If you tell people that it takes ten years of devoted work to reach mastery of a skill–not greatness, but mere mastery–they will nod and say, Right, that makes sense. But if you tell them that means it could very well take them ten years or more to write a novel, no matter how good their idea is . . . well, you can see the despair on their face.

But the thing is, you’re allowed to enjoy those ten years (or however long it takes). Actually, you better enjoy it. If you find that you don’t actually like writing all that much–if you’d rather be a person with a book than a person who writes–hit the eject button early and save yourself a ton of suffering.

MWW: What is your writing process like?

BF: I don’t have one.

Or, rather, I don’t have just one. My process depends on the type of project, the reason for writing, the time I get to work on it, and probably a thousand other factors I can’t consciously discern.

For example, my process for writing this response is different than my approach for my current novel project, which is different than my approach for my last novel project, which is different than answering a hundred emails in an hour, which is different than–

You get the idea. Each project calls for something different. I have a mental junk drawer full of strategies, and I’m always on the lookout for new strategies. That way, if a certain combination doesn’t work, there’s always something else I can try. Flexibility is key. Flexibility and an experimental spirit.

That said, certain threads run through my creative practice, no matter what I’m writing. Daydreaming. Making notes. Showing up to the page (almost) every day, and finding ways to lower the pressure and boost the joy.

MWW: What advice do you have for writers coming to MWW19? What will your sessions emphasize?

BF: The first time I went to a writing conference, I ran into one of my old teachers. “Pace yourself,” she said when I breathlessly told her about all the panels I’d already seen and everything I was planning to do.

Nah, I thought. I’m fine. I want to squeeze every last drop out of this conference.

As it turned out, the conference squeezed every last drop out of me–before dinner on the first day. So learn from my mistake, my friends, especially if you’re an introvert who needs the occasional oasis of solitude to recharge. Pace. Yourself.

Okay, about my sessions. Three sessions, three different topics: writing, reading, and editing.

  • Writing: We’ll talk about process and practice, the cornerstones of the writing life.
  • Reading: Once you learn how to “read like a writer,” every text will become a teacher.
  • Editing: We’ll dig into global editing and line editing, playing around with exercises that can you help you edit the work of other writers or revise your own material.

Hope to run into you there. And if I look all wild-eyed and manic, remind me of my own advice, won’t you?

Register Today! Do this thing.

Click here to register.

 

Are you writing a mystery? Need help with a writing plan?

We look forward to welcoming Mary Carter – a Chicago-based, bestselling novelist and workshop leader at the Chicago Writer’s Loft – to MWW19 this July.

Mary’s works have been translated into a number of languages and include: Home With My Sisters, London From My Windows, Meet Me in Barcelona, Three Months in Florence, The Things I Do For You, The Pub Across the Pond, My Sister’s Voice, Sunnyside Blues, She’ll Take It, and Accidentally Engaged. In addition to her novels, she has written six novellas, two of which have been New York Times bestselling anthologies.

Readers and aspiring writers can check her out at MaryCarterBooks.com and thewritersloft.com, follow her on Twitter @marycarterbooks, or like her on Facebook at Mary Carter Books.

Mary also writes under the pen name Carlene O’Connor and is a USA Today bestselling author of “The Irish Village Mysteries.” To date, as Carlene O’Connor, she has written Murder in an Irish Village, Murder at an Irish Wedding, and Murder in an Irish ChurchyardMurder at an Irish Pub, and Murder in Galway. September 2019 will see the release of A Christmas Cocoa Murder. Readers can visit her at CarleneOConnor.net or Carlene O’Connor on Facebook.

Mary will be joining us as part of the MWW faculty for the first time. Her Thursday workshops include “Get a Clue: Setting the Mystery Scene” and “Not the Usual Suspect: Developing Characters for Your Mystery.” During Friday morning’s buttonhole session, she will lead discussions on “Words as Weapons.” And Friday afternoon, she will present “Plotting and Re-writing Your Mystery: Where the Magic Happens.”

Janis Thornton, long-time friend of Midwest Writers Workshop, caught up with Mary recently and interviewed her for this Q&A.

MWW:  According to your bio on the Fantastic Fiction website, you’re an actor! Please tell us a bit about how you’ve applied your acting techniques to writing, primarily in creating and building your characters.

MC/CC: 

I consider myself an ex-actor, although maybe there’s no such thing. When I finally took the writing course that I now teach, the light bulb went on as far as the connection between writing and acting. All the work I did on my characters as an actress now had to apply to all the characters in the story. Acting helped with scene study, dialogue, motivation, and most importantly feeling everything your characters are feeling. It was a fabulous foundation for my journey as a writer, and I believe sped up my development once I made the connections.

MWW:  When did you write your first cozy mystery, what led you to the genre, and what do you enjoy about writing them?

MC/CC: 

I wrote Murder in an Irish Village approximately five years ago. It was a request from my editor. He first asked if I would be interested in writing a murder mystery series for them set in England. I answered honestly, that I would have no idea how to do that -then added – but I could set in Ireland. I was in a parking lot of a grocery store in North Carolina. I had just moved there because I was tired of writing and working day jobs, so I Googled “cheapest, nicest places to live” and ended up in Wilmington, North Carolina. I will be honest. I never read “cozy” mysteries before that, unless you’re counting Agatha Christie as cozy. It’s the publishers that focus on genre. As a writer, there are times I’m given restrictions – i.e., there are reader expectations built into the genre of cozy mysteries, but then I had to write one that I would want to read. That isn’t a dig on the genre; I just wasn’t an avid reader of them, as I preferred gritty mysteries as a reader. I enjoy the challenge of sticking to those guidelines, but also stretching them, and creating a believable and compelling mystery within those guidelines.

MWW:  What is your biggest challenge in keeping your storylines and characters fresh?

MC/CC: 

Believe it or not, I haven’t run into that yet. I’ve been able to keep each mystery fresh by imagining scenarios that interest me. I employ change of seasons, new characters coming to town, new subjects – be it genealogy, or weddings, or poker games, and in the current one I’m writing, the characters venture a little outside of their hometown to shake things up a bit.

MWW:  How have your Irish ties influenced your writing, characters, and plotting?

MC/CC: 

Of course. All my years of research at Irish pubs in NYC paid off. And all my Irish friends, Irish exes, and Irish in the family line. It’s impossible to imagine the series set anywhere else, as setting and characters are such a deep part of the story. I’m sure I get things wrong that an Irish native would notice. I strive to learn from those mistakes with each book.

MWW:  What authors have inspired you?

MC/CC: 

Oh boy. I read everything I can get my hands on and that is a long list. I guess I’ll stick to mysteries. I like everyone from Tana French, Sue Grafton, Ann Cleeves, Raymond Chandler, John Grisham, Dennis Lehane, Jane Harper, Lisa Gardner, Tony Hillerman. I also love psychological thrillers. My TBR list is always piled high, and I read widely across genres. And now that I have author friends, I love all their books too.

MWW:  And lastly, what’s the best way for participants in your sessions to prepare, and what is the best new writing tip you want them to leave with?

MC/CC: 

No preparation needed, just an open mind, and a notebook, (or laptop), and I will leave them with a writing plan – the WOAES – that they can use the rest of their writing lives! Is that a little mysterious? A mini cliffhanger? I hope so!

MWW:  Thank you, Mary! We’re all looking forward to meeting you.

Register Today! Do this thing.

Click here to register.

 

Get your manuscript pages edited at MWW19

Have a book manuscript in progress? Get help for your first 10 pages!

As part of our July 25-27 MWW19 conference, we’re offering six intensive, hands-on intensive sessions., one of which is Holly Miller’s Manuscript Makeover. Here’s the description:

Manuscript Makeover: All Genres – This interactive intensive is designed for those fiction and nonfiction writers who are ready to take a quantum leap forward in enhancing their writing skills. Participants will send a one-page synopsis and the first 10 pages of a book manuscript in progress. Holly will edit and critique these pages and display them to the class as a way of revealing strengths and weaknesses in the material. Additionally, she will lead the students in writing exercises and offer advice on such topics as creating strong titles and opening paragraphs, learning to self-edit, mastering proofreading, finding the right markets for manuscripts and knowing when and how to go into writing full-time. [Limit 12.]

Holly pic Author-editor Holly Miller says that books are a lot like airplanes–they’re most vulnerable to crashes during takeoff and landing. Her explanation: A story needs powerful opening pages (takeoff) and a satisfying final chapter (landing) if it’s going to convince agents, editors and readers to come along for the ride. Holly’s Manuscript Makeover intensive (July 27th) is one our most popular sessions and will focus on beginnings, endings, and everything in between. With 14 books and 2,500 magazine articles to her credit, Holly knows how to help authors chart a course that will get them closer to their anticipated destination: publication.

Do writers need to have a completed book manuscript to benefit from Manuscript Makeover?

No, all they need are a one-page synopsis and their book’s opening 10 pages. To succeed in today’s publishing world, a writer has to have two things: A compelling story to tell and the ability to tell it well. The synopsis addresses the first, and the sample pages show the second. Some writers come to Manuscript Makeover with only an idea and a rough draft of the first chapter. They want to know if they should keep writing. Others have finished their books and wonder what the next step is. Then there are the writers who have tried to market their books but with no success. They want to know where they fell short and how to fix the problem.

Why do you limit the class size to 12 writers?

For a couple of reasons. First, I want to encourage a sense of community. After all, we’re all writers even though we may be at different stages of development. Second-and this is personal-the class is really labor-intensive for me as the facilitator. I like to read each manuscript several times, adding notes, making suggestions and editing as I go. I build the class from scratch each time I teach it. I’ve found that 12 is the perfect number.

You open the class to novelists and nonfiction writers. Why not specify one or the other?

Typically, the class attracts more novelists than nonfiction authors, even though nonfiction is easier to sell these days. Regardless of the genre we choose, we’re all storytellers. We have to know how to grab and hold readers’ attention, how to build tension, create dialogue and weave in backstory. Those components need to be in every story we tell.

Where do writers get stuck most often when attempting to revise their work?

A lot of writers don’t know where to begin. In other words, they wonder at what point does the writing stop and the revising begin? Here’s what I recommend: After finishing a draft of a book, print out a hard copy but don’t look at it for three-to-five days. This is a “cooling down” period that puts some distance between the writer and the pages. When ready, read through the printed book in its entirety without a pen or pencil in hand. This is hard because the temptation is to make corrections and scribble notes in the margins. Not until a second reading do you start crossing out words and paragraphs. Line editing is easy-catching mechanical errors, misspellings, redundancies, etc. The challenge is to look at the big picture to see if you’ve over-populated your books with more characters than are necessary, or if your plot is plausible, or if your subplot kicks in at the right point. After making substantive changes to the version in your computer (always save a copy of the original!), give the manuscript another rest before you continue to tweak and fine tune it. This whole process takes at least four weeks…or more.

What are the most common mistakes that beginning writers miss when writing or rewriting a piece?

Probably the biggest mistake is thinking that revising a manuscript is a solo job. Every successful writer I know has a team of trusted readers who read the writer’s work and offer constructive feedback. (If you doubt me, check the “acknowledgements” page in many books. This is where the author thanks all the people who played a role in bringing the book to print.) Pick your readers carefully, and let them know you are open to their guidance and suggestions. That said, don’t feel obligated to incorporate all of their changes. After all, it’s your book!

Are there books or resources about revising that you highly recommend?

Writersdigest.com has several articles and a couple of good webinars that are worth checking out. One is called “How to Revise Your Manuscript: Tips from five editors.” Another of my favorite resources is the website of best-selling mystery writer Louise Penny (louisepenny.com). She has included a section called “Getting Published” that walks authors through all the steps of creating-and selling-a novel. For shorter nonfiction manuscripts, chapter 20 in a book I wrote with a colleague is called “Before you hit the send button.” This is a 20-point checklist to help writers identify possible problems in their manuscripts. The book’s title is Feature & Magazine Writing, third edition, from Wiley-Blackwell publishers.

You can register for Holly’s Manuscript Makeover as part of our THREE-DAY option or ONE-DAY (Saturday only) option. But don’t wait too long as her 12 openings are going fast!

One-day mini-conference | Reaching Your Writing Goals

This mini-conference will give your writing a boost!

Midwest Writers Workshop is offering a mini-conference, “Reaching Your Writing Goals,” on Saturday, November 3, 2018, 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (includes lunch) at the Ball State Alumni Center, 2800 W. Bethel Ave., Muncie, Ind.

Authors presenting at the mini-conference are Kelsey Timmerman, Annie Sullivan, and Sarah Schmitt. The program includes talks about getting published, participation in break-out groups, a panel question-and-answer session, and book celebration for Kelsey’s newest release (Where Am I Giving?), Annie’s debut novel (A Touch of Gold), and the new paperback of Sarah’s novel (It’s A Wonderful Death). Books will be available for purchase and signing.

Cost for this day mini-conference is just $60.

Reaching Your Writing Goals

10:00-10:10       Welcome, introductions

10:10-12:40       Authors (Kelsey Timmerman, Annie Sullivan, Sarah Schmitt) share their Path to Publishing

12:40-1:00        Working sack lunch/fellowship

1:15-1:45          Breakout #1

Kelsey Timmerman: Finding and Telling True Stories — An overview of brainstorming, researching, and interviewing techniques Kelsey has used to write 3 books.

Annie Sullivan: How to Hook an Agent: Everything from Strong Query Letters to First Lines — Landing an agent starts with getting their attention and not letting it go. Discover how to keep agents reading your work and requesting more!

Sarah Schmitt: Plotting Boot Camp — All good stories have one thing in common: a strong plot. This presentation simplifies the plotting process and helps focus a writer’s vision of their current work in progress. Participants will engage in a group writing activity that can then be used as a tool for their own projects.

1:45-2:15           Breakout #2

Kelsey Timmerman: How to Write a Book Proposal — To land an agent and an editor for your nonfiction book, first you need to write a proposal.

Annie Sullivan: Worldbuilding: How to Build the Foundations of Your Fantasy or Sci-fi World — Learn to create fantasy worlds that will sweep readers off their feet by incorporating small and large details into your work.

Sarah Schmitt: Character Development Workshop — Does your character’s eye color matter? Does he or she resent authority? Why? Character development is imperative for any story. This hands-on workshop will look at how a character’s past influences their actions in the present and where inspiration can be found to create a character as unique as you are.

2:30-3:00       Reassemble as a group in Assembly Hall; Q&A with the panel

3:00-3:10       Explain MWW resources (future mini-conferences, etc.)

3:10-3:30       Invitation to purchase books and have authors autograph them.

Fellowship/community time

REGISTER HERE

FACULTY:

Kelsey Timmerman is the New York Times Bestselling author of WHERE AM I WEARING? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes and WHERE AM I EATING? An Adventure Through the Global Food Economy. His newest book is WHERE AM I GIVING? A Global Adventure Exploring How to Use Your Gifts and Talents to Make a Difference. His writing has appeared in places such as the Christian Science Monitor and has aired on NPR. Kelsey is also the cofounder of the Facing Project, which seeks to connect people through stories to strengthen community. He has spent the night in Castle Dracula in Romania, played PlayStation in Kosovo, farmed on four continents, taught an island village to play baseball in Honduras, and in another life, worked as a SCUBA instructor in Key West, Florida. Whether in print or in person he seeks to connect people around the world.

Annie Sullivan is a Young Adult author from Indianapolis, Indiana. Her work has been featured in Curly Red Stories and Punchnels. She loves fairytales, everything Jane Austen, and traveling and exploring new cultures. When she’s not off on her own adventures, she’s teaching classes at the Indiana Writers Center and working as the Copy Specialist at John Wiley and Sons, Inc. publishing company, having also worked there in Editorial and Publicity roles. You can follow her adventures on Twitter and Instagram (@annsulliva).

As a former K-8 school librarian and youth services profession for a public library, Sarah Schmitt has always enjoyed pushing books on unsuspecting teens. Now, as a YA author, she gets to write those stories. Focusing on serious issues facing teens with her hallmark brand of humor, Sarah has taught at The Indiana Writer’s Center and presents interactive workshops at middle and high schools throughout Indiana and beyond. She has serviced on the selection committee for both the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, Young Hoosier Book Award for Middle Grade and Teens Top Ten. When not reading or writing, Sarah can be found crocheting or trying to prefect the perfect shave ice flavor formula. She lives with her husband, two kidlets, and a ninja cat near Indianapolis, Indiana. You can follow her on Instagram @sarahjschmitt.