40th Midwest Writers Workshop given “5 Stars!”

What a way to celebrate the 40th Midwest Writers Workshop! At capacity (happily) six weeks before the workshop! First time establishing a waiting list. First time (sadly) turning away writers desperate to attend.

2013-07-26 10.37.07Participants traveled from 20 states, and according to the word eavesdropped in the Conservatory, the Library, Assembly Hall and all corners of the building, never have so many enjoyed so much.

A record-breaking 235 participants crowded into the Alumni Center, July 25-27, to listen, talk, write, share, pitch, question, eat, drink, laugh, challenge, commiserate – and, yes, sleep once in a while. Something special marked this 40th annual workshop that might be difficult to put your finger on, but anyone involved knew it was happening. “…very encouraging,” invigorating,” “awesome,” “5 stars!” “the best,”  “thrilling experience,” were just some of the comments which pointed in this direction.

From the new hands-on Tech Intensive Sessions to the wild Jeopardy game to the history celebration to the Message in a Bottle to the Buttonhole the Experts, and to all the useful and informative sessions taught by a superbly talented faculty, MWW13 jammed highlights galore into three exhausting days.

MWW Jama award foto - with inscriptionAfter the great energy and advice from Hank Phillippi Ryan’s banquet speech, another special highlight was the presentation of the Dorothy Hamilton Award to MWW director Jama Kehoe Bigger. The award, named for the co-founder of the workshop, is given selectively to a person associated with the workshop who exemplifies Dorothy’s strong personal interest in writing and assisting other writers in their careers.  The standing ovation for Jama confirmed this year’s choice was on target. (And she was also a bit overwhelmed when several long-time participants/friends created Jama’s Fan Club!)

Kudos from our participants…

  • “Great conference – great place to re-energize your enthusiasm for writing and to build relationships with writers and those in the publishing business.”– Stephen Terrell
  • “At every step of my writing process – from book idea to rough draft to final draft, to publishing, author platform, to agent representation – MWW offers help and people who know and love writing.”– Sandy Kachurek
  • “The Midwest Writers Workshop is a magnificent way to meet our peers and gain knowledge to perfect our craft. The authors and the staff are extremely generous with their time and knowledge. Having bestselling authors share their experiences and knowledge is awesome to the extreme. It’s like spending two whole days with the best possible mentors.”– William Markly O’Neal
  • “This conference is the best thing that could have happened to a ‘new writer.'”– Brittany Means
  • “Each year I attend I find there are ‘magically’ the exact classes I need for the stage I happen to be in with my writing at that moment.”– Carla Gillespie
  • “This is the best conference I could have attended. Friendly people, knowledgeable faculty, personalized options (like manuscript evaluations). This conference has helped me form new goals and equipped me with skills and resources to reach those goals. I feel much more prepared for the writing process – from first drafts, to revisions, to queries, and beyond – because of this conference.”– Kristen Metz
  • “This was my first conference, and I loved all of it. Everyone was welcoming. I made great contacts and even got two requests for full manuscripts. This conference is packed full of everything an emerging writer needs to step right into the world of publishing.”– Anne W. S.

Kudos from our faculty…

  • “As we say in Sisters in Crime, you write alone, but you’re not alone. Nowhere is this more gloriously apparent than the super-charged powerhouse of writing skill-the Midwest Writers Workshop.  From tentative newbie to experienced oldbie (!) -we all learned something useful, we all shared something special, we all made new friends, we were all inspired and – absolutely – we are all looking forward to the next time. A true triumph-and a must-do for anyone who’s  intrigued by the world of writing.” – Hank Phillippi Ryan (Mary Higgins Clark, Agatha, Anthony and Macavity award winning author, President of National Sisters in Crime)
  • “I left the Midwest Writers Workshop as a stronger writer…and I was on the faculty. I can only imagine what it does to attendees.” – Lou Harry
  • “The Midwest Writers Workshop 2013 lived up to its reputation as one of the best conferences in the country and certainly the best value. Any writer looking to learn the craft of writing, discover the tricks and tips to getting published, and meet a wonderful and accessible group of writers and agents, would be crazy to pass up this conference. MWW undoubtedly provides the best bang for the buck!” – D.E. (Dan) Johnson (The Detroit Electric Scheme; Motor City Shakedown; Detroit Breakdown; Detroit Shuffle, St. Martin’s Minotaur Books)
  • “The Midwest Writers Workshop remains at the top of my list of favorite conference experiences. The focused curriculum, helpful staff, and welcoming participants all make this one of the best organized writing events I’ve yet seen.” – Brooks Sherman, FinePrint Literary Management

Check out our videos! (produced by Matt Shouse)



Read more about the fun of MWW13!

Jane Friedman‘s luncheon presentation: Audience Development for Writers: Your Life-Long Career Investment

Cathy Day: BSU + MWW: or “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”

Kelsey Timmerman: Midwest Writers Workshop Video

Summer Heacock: The Fizziest Midwest Writers Workshop Wrap-Up You’ll Ever Read

Sarah Wesson: “Calm Down. Write a Book.”: What I Learned at the 2013 Midwest Writers Workshop

Check our Photo Gallery and tag yourself on our Facebook Page!

So we’re patting ourselves on the back. And for just a while, basking in the bright light that was #mww13 before we move onto our 41st MWW, July 24-26, 2014.

Interview with agent Victoria Marini

Marini VictoriaVictoria Marini is the newest member of the Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency. Victoria’s  website includes her blog, client list, query updates and more. You can also find her on Twitter. She started taking on clients in 2010, and she has begun to build her own client list which includes literary fiction, commercial fiction, pop-culture non-fiction, and young adult. She is very interested in acquiring engaging literary fiction and mysteries / suspense, commercial women’s fiction (romantic suspense, sci-fi, fantasy), and Young Adult (contemporary, sci-fi/fantasy, thriller and horror ). Above all, she is looking for anything with an engaging voice, compelling narrative and authentic characters. Victoria was interviewed by MWW social media intern John Carter.

John: When you think about the great pitches you’ve heard, what set them apart? Was it the quality of book being proposed, or was it the author’s delivery?

Victoria: It’s generally about the book itself. A great premise, engaging voice, and straightforward approach work very well. I think that a poor delivery of a great concept can ruin a query, but a great query–without the book to back it up–is just as disappointing.

John: Because this might be a new process to some attendees, if you show interest in a manuscript, what’s the next step for the writer?

Victoria: Well, it depends on your definition of “interest.” If I like a query and sample enough to request a partial or full manuscript, I usually wait for the author to send it to me as a document or PDF. Then I confirm the receipt of a manuscript (and yes, it IS okay to make sure I got it if I don’t let you know). Then I’ll read it and decide whether it’s something I want to offer on, whether it’s something I’d like to see revised, or whether it’s something I have to pass on. If I want to offer, I make an official offer of representation and give the author time to notify other agents reading the manuscript, and give him or her time to make a decision. If I like the work, but it needs revision, I’ll write an e-mail detailing my concerns and ask to see the work again should the author choose to revise.

John: On your website, you consider yourself a “future agent,” being “highly collaborative and responsive.” What does this high level of involvement mean for potential clients? What should they expect when working with you?

Victoria: What that means is that I’m open to exploring a lot of different options for my clients depending on their own needs. I’m not afraid of digital only, I’m happy to work with smaller presses if they’re a good fit, I’m happy to submit to editorial directors and the big six publishing houses if you’ve got a commercial, splashy “blockbuster” on your hands, despite my not sharing a generation with said editor (usually). Gelfman Schneider also facilitates self-publishing through Amazon’s white glove program or through all e-reading platforms.

Being collaborative and responsive just means that my clients can expect a more frequent and more in-depth level of contact than they might expect from an agent at a larger agency that has a lot more clients. I e-mail and talk with my clients often, and I’m all about making people feel comfortable and confident in me and my process.


Victoria’s Part II sessions include:

  • The Perfect Pitch
  • Agent Panel Q&A: Sarah LaPolla, Victoria Marini, John Cusick, Amanda Luedeke, Brooks Sherman.Topics: The 3-minute pitch, query letters, etc.

Victoria represents a changing dynamic in the agent-client relationship that involves a deeper level of collaboration between the two parties. With new technologies and evolving forms of social media shortening the physical distances between people, it is more important than ever before that writers be aware of the resources available to them. Luckily, the Midwest Writer’s Workshop offers free social media tutoring appointments to help answer your questions about enhancing your online presence and finding online community. If you’re registered for MWW Part II and would like to take advantage of this opportunity, begin by filling out and submitting this brief questionnaire.

Agent Sarah LaPolla returns to MWW

Literary agent Sarah LaPolla returns to MWW13!

Sarah LaPolla is very excited to share her latest news that she is now with Bradford Literary Agency!

LaPolla Bradford

Sarah represents YA and adult fiction, and the genres she looks for in both of those categories run pretty parallel. She prefers contemporary stories to historical, unless there’s a very good reason for it to be historical. For “genre” fiction, she loves horror, mystery, science fiction, and fantasy, but looks for the word “literary” before any of those headings. Think Shirley Jackson as opposed to Dean Koontz for horror, or Gillian Flynn rather than Sue Grafton for mystery. If she’s not in love with the characters, it’s hard for her to pay attention to much else. She also loves magical realism, which is hard to define and is a very specific type of writing. Her quick definition is: A subgenre of literary fiction that infuses fantastic/surreal elements to the story that are not essential to the plot.

Sarah runs the literary blog Glass Cases and can be found on Twitter at @sarahlapolla.

MWW committee member Cathy Shouse (Twitter@cathyshouse) interviewed Sarah for this week’s newsletter.

Cathy: Most agents come to MWW just once. Why did you decide to come back?

Sarah: I’ll come back to MWW as many times as I’m invited! The staff and faculty are so organized and friendly and professional. It was great getting to know them on a personal level last year as well as professional. It’s nice when conferences aren’t all about business every second of the weekend. MWW seems to keep in mind that agents are people first and agents second. It’s just a great atmosphere to be a part of, and the quality of the writing I’ve seen there is worth the trip alone.

Cathy: Any tips for last year’s attendees who pitched to you and perhaps you took a pass? It’s not easy on either side when the answer is “no,” and the reasons why will vary. I ask because one writer said that she acquired an agent after they had multiple contacts at conferences over a period of years. Some of us may think a rejection means to avoid the agent forever.

Sarah: It always depends on why the pitch was rejected. If it’s something I don’t represent, then I’m not likely to change my mind. But if it’s something I asked questions about and passed on because certain elements were missing, then I’d be open to revisit it.

Cathy: When we last talked, you had not ever found a client at a conference. What is the status of your finding clients at conferences these days?

Sarah: Last year I met the fabulous Summer Heacock at MWW and requested her manuscript when she didn’t even pitch to me. We just got to know each other as people first and then I realized–through the other agents there–that her writing was just as clever as she seemed to be. So, I requested the manuscript, asked for a revision, and about four months post-MWW, I signed her as a client.

Cathy: Do you have a personal list of automatic rejection criteria for queries and submissions?

Sarah: I answer everything I receive with usually a form rejection, and then a personal rejection if it’s something I requested. (Or, the better case scenario, with an offer of representation!) There are two exceptions: When a query is attached instead of in the body of the email, it gets instantly deleted. The other “delete-without-being-read” query is when I see other agents copied on it. Writers should query multiple agents simultaneously, but they should be choosing specific agents they think will be a good fit for them. Mass emails show carelessness and a lack of professionalism.

Cathy: What premises or plot twists are you tired of seeing in your inbox?


  1. Anything paranormal. Vampires have finally subsided, but now I’m seeing too many genetically enhanced humans, teens with superpowers, and love interests who are paranormal creatures.
  2. Main character’s parents are dead/neglectful/drunk/other-excuse-for-absent, so main character must find self-actualization through a “wild” best friend or perfect soul mate.
  3. Teens who are bullied or are bullies. I’ve sold books like this and still think they matter, but I’m overloaded with them. Bullying as a YA topic has always been around, but in recent years it’s become a trend, and sadly that market has become saturated.
  4. Dystopian worlds that don’t do anything new with the genre. I love dystopian, but it’s too hard to sell in the post-Hunger Games market so 99 percent of the time I have to pass on it. Conspiratorial governments, characters living in a not-what-it-seems world, and the one girl or boy who’s meant to save the day are “basic” elements of dystopian that can’t stand on their own anymore.

Cathy: Anything writers should know about your change of agencies? Do you still handle foreign rights?

Sarah: I’m still the same agent! I represent the same genres and hope to grow my adult fiction side of my list at my new agency. I don’t still work in foreign rights, but since I came from that world and know how much it matters, I made it part of my job search to only seek agencies with a fabulous foreign rights agent. Among the many reasons I joined Bradford Literary was because I knew my authors would be in good hands with Taryn Fagerness as their foreign rights representative.

Cathy: What are some examples of current published works you enjoy, to give us a feel for what interests you?

Sarah: My favorite book published last year was Gone Girlby Gillian Flynn. This year (and yes I know it’s only half over), my favorite is Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. Two very different books, but at their core they’re both about characters you can’t stop reading about.

Cathy: For those with pitch appointments with you in July, how should they prepare? This is your chance to describe an ideal pitch appointment, or take it in the reverse, what is a poor one?

Sarah: I always tell writers to relax! The point of a pitch session is to tell an agent–succinctly–what your book is about. If you do that, you’ve won the pitch session. No agent will offer you representation based on a pitch session. If you get a “sure, send me material,” the agent still needs to read your work. So there’s no reason to get worked up during the pitch. Even if it’s a “no,” then the writer still did the job.

Cathy: If someone doesn’t have a pitch session, may that person still approach you? If so, how?

Sarah: Of course. I’ll probably be put off if a writer approaches me with their pitch, but a simple “hello, how are you, oh by the way I have a book you might like” can work out quite well. Also? They should attend the session I’m teaching with Summer Heacock at MWW on how to approach agents at conferences!


Sarah’s Part II sessions include:

  • Agent Panel Q&A: Sarah LaPolla, Victoria Marini, John Cusick, Amanda Luedeke, Brooks Sherman. Topics: The 3-minute pitch, query letters, etc.
  • Publishing in a Brave New World Panel – Sarah LaPolla, Roxane Gay, Barb Shoup, Jane Friedman, D.E. Johnson
  • How to Make a Connection at Conferences – Sarah LaPolla and Summer Heacock

Interview with author Colleen Coble

Colleen Pub 2012 BigBestselling author Colleen Coble‘s novels have won or been a finalist in awards ranging from the Best Books of Indiana, the ACFW Carol Award, the Romance Writers of America RITA, the Holt Medallion, the Daphne du Maurier, National Readers’ Choice, and the Booksellers Best. She has over 2 million books in print and writes romantic mysteries because she loves to see justice prevail. Colleen is CEO of American Christian Fiction Writers.

Just one day with MWW can turbo-charge your career! Consider taking an Intensive Session!

Everyone’s on a tight schedule and many are watching pennies these days. Jumpstart your writing and your publishing knowledge with a MWW Intensive Session. An intensive is one day, a total of six hours of learning from an expert in the field. It’s like a college master class with a limited number of students.

Just $135 and five hours of your time (which includes lunch) is an excellent investment in advancing your career. We have record numbers of people attending this year, yet the genre-specific intensives provide an intimate setting, with a small class size. You can learn from a professional and get many of your individual questions answered.

Don’t miss your chance to learn from Colleen–someone with 2 million+ books in print who has been recognized for her efforts at helping other writers to succeed!

Colleen will teach the Intensive Session: “It’s Not Your Grandmother’s Inspirational Novel: Writing for a Changing Market.” The market has changed in recent years for inspirational novels. The genres run the gamut from Amish to vampire and everything in between. The market is hungry for great books that challenge and entertain.

MWW committee member Cathy Shouse caught up with Colleen with a few questions before Colleen headed off to Alaska.

Cathy: You’ve received too many accolades to list. Which career achievement or experience holds special significance and why?

Colleen: I adore the Best Books of Indiana award! It meant so much to me because it came from my home state. I’m such a Hoosier lover. 🙂

Cathy: How has going to conferences influenced your career — as an attendee and/or on faculty?

Colleen: A conference is crucial for an aspiring writer. It’s a place to network with other writers, learn more about the business of writing, and meet editors and agents. My first conference was the Midwest Writers Workshop 

many years ago. I won a scholarship, and it was the first time I’d even been around another writer. Being around others like me was such an encouragement. I realized I wasn’t totally weird just because I had characters talking to me in my head. I began to understand a bit more about this dream that had hold of me. The first thing an aspiring writer needs to understand is that writing is a business. Just like any business, it takes an investment. I consider attendance to at least one conference a year a crucial expense for success.

Cathy: Is there something you wish you had known earlier in your career that you can share with our readers?

Colleen: I wish I’d known how important it was to move on to the next book once I’d finished the first one. I kept tweaking and working on the first book instead of starting a new project. You learn to write by writing. Don’t make my mistake. Write that first book to the best of your ability, then start a new one while you’re sending out the first one.

Alternatively, if you are able to spend all three days with us for $360, you can also hear Colleen teach on the topics below, and get a chance to pitch to a literary agent.

Colleen’s Part II sessions (Friday and Saturday) include:

  • Layers: How to Raise Your Submission Out of the Slush Pile. Editors and agents see the same submissions over and over again. Colleen will discuss her rule of three for layering a compelling novel. If you don’t know what layers are, let alone how to figure them out, join in for a fun discussion as participants will have practice in layering.
  • The Joy of Revisions. Colleen believes revision is the best part of writing. Getting feedback from your editor or critique partner doesn’t have to be painful. Embrace the joy of revisions and learn the steps to take when tackling a rewrite.
  • Romancing the Idea: Coming Up with a New Novel. It’s time to start your next novel, but you don’t have a great idea yet. Colleen shares her unique approach to finding story. You’ll leave this fun, interactive class with a fresh dose of creativity that can springboard you to your next novel.

Agent Brooks Sherman returning

brooks-pic3Literary agent Brooks Sherman of Fineprint Literary Management is returning to our 2013 summer workshop!

Says Brooks: “In all honesty, I wanted to come back to MWW because it was hands-down the most enjoyable writers’ conference I attended last year. The conference organizers were friendly and helpful, my fellow faculty members were collegial, and the conference participants were welcoming and receptive to feedback. I’ve made many friends from last year’s conference, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again and making new acquaintances.”

Glad to have you back, Brooks!

What he’s looking for … adult fiction that runs the gamut from literary and upmarket to speculative (particularly urban/contemporary fantasy rooted in realistic settings, horror/dark fantasy, and magical realism), as well as historical and crime fiction. On the children’s side, he is seeking middle grade novels of all genres (but particularly fantasy adventure and contemporary), and is open to YA fiction of all types except paranormal romance. He would especially love to get his hands on a dark and/or funny contemporary YA project.

Read more about Brooks here.

Interview with Jane Friedman

This summer, Midwest Writers Workshop is offering two “Tech Intensives” in addition to our “Craft Intensives.” The always-amazing Jane Friedman will teach an all-day, hands-on class on “Creating an e-book.” For years, Jane has been coming to MWW to talk about why authors need to be tech savvy. This year, we’ll augment her message with hands-on lessons that will show you how to get those skills. Jane is the web editor for Virginia Quarterly Review and an e-media and publishing visionary with (lucky for us) Muncie roots.

Here’s Jane’s course description of her Tech Intensive:

Attendees will learn what you need to get started in e-publishing your work. There will also be assistants on hand to help you figure out the technology and work one-on-one. The industry has exploded with new and free opportunities to help you publish your work electronically, at little or no cost to you. Learn how to get visibility for your work by using online services that make your work available on major e-reading platforms such as Kindle, Nook, and iPad. While e-publishing doesn’t equal instant success (if you build it, they may NOT come), you’ll learn the principles behind the successful creation and distribution of an e-book, as well as the technical skill required to convert your work into different formats.

Jane was kind enough to answer a few questions for MWW, interviewed by committee member Cathy Day.

Cathy: We are so fortunate that you’ll be teaching this intensive class for us. I’m not going to ask you a question about e-publishing, because you’ve already said so much about this subject. I’ll just point people here and here. But I will ask you this: What should people bring with them to your session? How can they best prepare?

Jane: If people want to get the maximum practical value from the workshop, they should come prepared with a manuscript that they’d like to publish as an e-book. Most people will probably have a Word document to start with, and that’s perfect. However, even if you don’t yet have a manuscript or document ready for e-publishing, I guarantee you won’t be twiddling your thumbs. There’s a lot of territory to cover–both theory and nuts and bolts–and practice files will be provided for those without their own manuscript.

Cathy: Good to know! You’ve been coming to Midwest Writers for how many years now?

Kelsey Timmernan, Jane Friedman, Jama Bigger and Cathy Day chat in the atrium.

Kelsey Timmernan, Jane Friedman, Jama Bigger and Cathy Day chat in the atrium.

Jane: Since 2003! It’s like a family reunion for me. [She received the MWW prestigious Dorothy Hamilton Award in 2008 for her contributions to the on-going success of Midwest Writers Workshop.]

Cathy: So this will be your tenth anniversary then. I love to tell people about Midwest Writers. Why do you keep coming back? What’s special about this conference?

Jane: Two qualities combined make it very special: high-quality workshops and teachers in an accessible, friendly, welcoming atmosphere. It’s one of the few writers conferences where the faculty and the environment are so openly interactive and inviting of conversation.

Also, that sunlit atrium where people congregate. It may sound silly, but I think it has an impact on how cheerful the event is. It has an architecture of happiness.

Cathy: Thanks Jane. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to continue learning from you this summer.

Jane’s Part II sessions (Friday and Saturday) include:

  • Friday Lunch / Audience Development: Your Lifelong Career Investment
  • Publishing in a Brave New World Panel: Sarah LaPolla, Roxane Gay, Barb Shoup, Jane Friedman, D.E. Johnson
  • E-Publishing 101: Using Amazon and Other Major Online Retailers to Publish Your Work. This overview of the DIY e-book landscape will help you understand the major players, current strategies, and key challenges of successful self-publishing.
  • The Art and Business of Building an Author Platform. Writers are often scared or baffled by platform because it’s seen as a marketing and promotion mindset-antithetical to the artist mindset. However, there is a way to approach platform that isn’t about selling, but rather understanding human behavior (including your own!).


Hank Phillippi Ryan Interview

Hank Phillippi Ryan to speak at MWW 40th

hank-phillippi-ryan-crop-pressHank Pillippi Ryan is an investigative reporter for Channel 7 News on WHDH-TV, the NBC-affiliate station for Boston, Massachusetts. A native of Indianapolis, she attended Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, and also studied abroad at the International School in Hamburg, Germany. Ryan joined WHDH-TV in 1983 as a general assignment reporter. In 1989, she was named principal reporter for the station’s investigative unit. Ryan has won 28 Emmy Awards and 12 Edward R. Murrow Awards for her investigative and consumer reporting.
Her first published novel, Prime Time, won the Agatha Award for best new mystery of 2007, featuring Boston investigative reporter Charlotte “Charlie” McNally. Her follow-up mystery, Face Time, was published in 2008 (and re-issued in 2009) and was a Book Sense Notable Book.
Her newest thriller, The Other Woman, is the big news! Published by Forge in September 2012, it is nominated for the MWA/MARY HIGGINS CLARK award, selected as one of Suspense Magazine’s Best Books of 2012, and named a TOP BOOK OF 2012 by the Kansas City Star.
“Fabulous! Fabulous! Want to know why everyone is talking about Hank Phillippi Ryan’s sizzling new thriller? Because with its frenetic pace, twisty plot, and superbly realized characters, The Other Woman is the book you need to read next! Don’t miss it!”  ~ Julie Hyzy

For MWW13, Hank will talk about planning your crime novel and ways to jumpstart your writing. MWW committee member Cathy Shouse interviewed Hank about her dual careers and coming to MWW this summer.

Q. Since meeting you at the writing conference in Washington D.C. in 2009, it seems your writing career has exploded with good news. Plus, you have that amazing Day Job. Please give us a thumbnail sketch of how you’ve become an “overnight success.”

HANK: Overnight success! Thank you. Pausing to laugh now, of course. I stated writing in 20..05? When I was 55. I’ve always wanted to write mysteries, but it wasn’t ’til then that I had a good idea! But when I did, I was just obsessed with writing the story. I was such a newbie, I had no idea what to do or how to connect or anything about the system. And that was probably such a good thing–it’s so daunting, isn’t it? And if you understand reality, it all seems impossible. Happily, I was clueless, and persevered. And that has served me well.

I simply–work. I’m organized, I’m driven, I’m curious, I’m happy when others succeed. I’m truly interested in paying it forward. I am open to new things, and to being disappointed and challenged and lucky.

Q. What is the best tip–or three, you would give writers in the early stage of the journey?

HANK: *Anything is possible, right?  If you persist?

*You never know what wonderful thing is around the next corner, so don’t quit five minutes before the miracle.

* Thinking of writing a whole book is incredibly difficult –but thinking about writing a page a day isn’t so tough. So set reasonable goals, ones you can meet–like writing a page a day. Do that and you’ll be finished with your book in just a year!

*Celebrate a good chapter, or a good idea, or the solution to a problem.

*Have fun! It’s fun, it’s rewarding, it’s creative.

*Don’t worry–because worrying will not make a spot of difference.

Okay, that’s more than three. How about: Embrace editing.

Q. Midwest Writers Workshop 2013 is mere months away. What do you aim for as a writing workshop instructor?

HANK: If people in my sessions can go home with just one terrific life-changing idea or inspiration, I’m happy. Everything I teach won’t be valuable to everyone every day–but I live for the moments when I imagine someone at their desk, writing, and saying,”OH! That’s what Hank meant!” That’s a terrific vision.

I love to hear the dilemmas individual writers face and work with them to untangle their thoughts and come up with solutions. Sometimes writers know SO much about their stories, it’s difficult to see the narrative path. I am eager to help them find their way. Sometimes writers don’t know enough about their stories–and I use my TV interview techniques to encourage them to imagine and think and suppose…and then send them on their way.

My goal is to inspire! And then watch other writers be happy. 

Q. At Indiana Romance Writers of America a few years ago, you spoke on how working in TV news helped your writing.  What is one tip from that presentation? 

HANK: Just do it. You know? Just write. Don’t fuss, don’t procrastinate, don’t make excuses. As a TV reporter, I have to have my stories done by deadline. Sometimes, I don’t feel like doing it. Doesn’t matter. Sometimes, I know my writing isn’t the best it can be–but the news isn’t going to wait. When I have a deadline, I have no choice. So I translate that to my fiction writing. I have a word goal for the day, and I do it. Sometimes it stinks. That’s fine. Unlike TV reporters, as fiction authors, we have the true luxury of being able to tweak and edit and fix and change…but as Nora Roberts always says, you can’t fix a blank page.  So pretend you have a deadline. You do.

Q. Everyone’s goal seems to be to write full-time. What advantages are there to keeping the Day Job, if any? 

HANK: Well, first of all, I love it. I’ve been a TV reporter for 37 years! And every day is a joy. (Well, almost every day.) I’m curious about the world, and this job lets me explore that with a kind of access most people don’t have. I get to talk to–and interview and confront-all kinds of people and go all kinds of places.  So when people ask–did you do a lot of research for your new book?–I say well, I’ve been doing research for the last 37 years! Now, I get to spend my day as a journalist, and (informally) do book research at the same time!

It does make writing time more precious and difficult to schedule…and as a result, I have to be incredibly organized and focused. Luckily, knock on wood, I am.

Q. Tell us about your Indiana roots and anything else, quirky or serious, that we should know before meeting you in Muncie in July.

HANK: We moved to Indianapolis from Chicago when I was five…I went to–School 53? Is there such a thing? And then we moved far out into the suburbs, to Zionsville, when I was 10 or so. It was so rural back then, we could not see another house from our house. We used to ride our ponies into town. I went to Pike High School, when I was the geeky nerdy Twilight-Zone watching outcast. As a senior, to my enduring shame, I was voted “Most Individual.”  It was years later when I realized that was a good thing. I worked at the Dairy Queen in Zionsville–that was my first summer job! I also worked for two summers at the Lyric Record store. (Records. Remember?) I still have family in Indiana-in Carmel.

And my first grown-up up job was in Indiana too, as a staffer on several political campaigns. Anyone old as I am and remember Matt Welsh? Terry Straub?  My first job in broadcasting was at WIBC Radio–remind me to tell you about that some day! And then in television at WTHR. (With Paul Udell and Renee Ferguson-anyone? Anyone?)

Q. Is there anything you would like to add, and please include your next release or whatever you are working on?

HANK: SO delighted to say–THE OTHER WOMAN is now in third printing, hurray, and made several “Best of 2012” lists in including the Boston Globe, Kansas City Star, Oline Cogdill, and Suspense Magazine.

The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan
The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan

My next book, THE WRONG GIRL will be out in hardcover from Forge this fall. What’s it about?  I’ll have to practice this-but “What if you didn’t know the truth about your own family? Jane Ryland suspects a top-notch adoption agency is reuniting birth parents with the wrong children.” It’s scary, let me tell you! I love to write stories about everyday things that are not what they seem.

Very excited about that! And now I am on the hunt for the plot of the next book. Where do ideas come from?  That’s the most difficult one of all! But that’s a question for another day. Can’t wait to see you all!


Interview with MWW fave John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of nine thrillers, the latest of which is Damage Control. His previous books include Threat Warning, Hostage Zero, No Mercy, Six Minutes to Freedom, Scott Free, Even Steven, At All Costs, and Nathan’s Run; four have been Literary Guild selections. His novels have been translated into more than 20 languages.

For MWW13, John will present “Writing Commercial Fiction,” as well as sessions on writing a series and suspense writing. MWW committee member Cathy Shouse interviewed John about his MWW appearances and his writing career.

Q.  How many times have you been on the MWW faculty? Any special memories you’d like to share? Mine would be MWW 2010 when you and Marcus Sakey did a rowdy, memorable “secrets to getting published” session. Finally, how has being on MWW faculty impacted your career?

MWW is one of my favorite conferences.  How many have I been to?  At least three, I think, but there might have been a fourth a long time ago.  (That would actually make it the first, wouldn’t it?  Ah, well . . .)

I agree that that session with Marcus was a highlight. Not just because he’s a great guy and a brilliant writer, but because the entire session was ad-libbed.  The writer he was originally paired with that day suffered a family emergency and had to back out at the last minute.  I was asked to pinch-hit, and was more than happy to step in.  The timing was such, though, that Marcus and I had no time to compare notes or choreograph anything.  Since we’re both comfortable in front of an audience, we decided to wing it, and it ended up going really, really well.

Truthfully, I enjoy every aspect of the conference, from teaching the sessions to critiquing manuscripts.

Q. As a New York Times Bestselling author, you must have had many high points in your career. What’s been your favorite award/recognition/memory?

Probably my most significant pinch-me moment came when my family and I were invited to Dino DeLaurentiis’s 80th birthday party on the Isle of Capri in Italy. There we were on Dino’s boat on a beautiful day, swimming off the side in the Mediterranean. That was pretty special. Most special of all, of course–and I think this is probably true of most novelists–is that first phone call telling me that my agent had sold my first book.  It felt every bit like the new beginning that it turned out to be.

Q. Catch us up with the latest– what you’re working on now, releases, etc.

HIGH TREASON, the fifth book in my Jonathan Grave series will come out next summer, and right now, I am working on two projects within the same series.  One is the sixth book, as yet untitled, and barely even plotted, but first there’ll be an e-book novella that will chronicle how Jonathan Grave and Irene Rivers–the director of the FBI in the series–first met.

Q. What are some advantages for pre-published and published authors to attend conferences? How did conferences influence your writing, if you attended any before publication?

I didn’t even know there were such things as writers’ conferences when I was penning the book that became NATHAN’S RUN.  Having been in the biz now for over 15 years, I think that conferences can be extremely valuable to writers of all stripes and at all stages in their careers.  The trick to learning from sessions and panels is to listen with an open yet skeptical mind.  This is a creative business, which by definition means that there are no rules for storytelling.  What works for me may have no value to another writer, because we all sift our stories through the filters of our own imaginations.  It’s important to take from any session that which resonates, and to feel free to reject that which does not resonate.

From the business side of writing (as opposed to the artistic side), the best value comes from time around the bar.  Like any other industry, this is a business of networking and contacts.  All else being equal, the chances of success increase dramatically with each new contact you make.

Q. One year, you shared with our attendees the downside of getting a large advance. How do insider tips and knowledge of how publishing works help a writer?

Quoting from that cinematic masterpiece, ANIMAL HOUSE, “Knowledge is Good.”  Many new writers make the mistake of believing that their aspirations begin and end with the creation of a work.  The reality is that our little corner of the entertainment business is exactly that–a business.  It makes no more sense to enter into a book contract without knowing about the publishing industry than it would to open a restaurant without researching the food service industry.  Authors walk into traps every day–willingly, it seems–with their eyes closed.  Standard book contracts are predatory and awful.  It takes a good agent or a lawyer to cut through the crap to give the author a chance of success.

I advise writers to assume that their novel is their million-dollar retirement plan, and to perform all the due diligence research for a book sale that they would do to invest in any other business.

Q. Is there something about a writing career that you wish you had known sooner?

I was surprised how isolating it is.  Not only is a book produced in solitude, there are precious few people in any one community to talk to about it.  In fact, more than a few people are put off by the fact of one’s being a professional writer.  At one level, I think that everyone believes they could write a book if only they could carve out the time to do so. It’s not until they give it a shot that they realize how damn difficult it can be. Eight years ago, I became so frustrated by the isolation that I went back to a high-pressure day job. To date, I am the only artist I know who walked away from full-time writing to go back to the daily grind. Curiously, I’m more prolific as a part-time author than I ever was a full-time author. Go figure.

Q. Is there anything you would like to add?

Just that I’m looking forward to another July in Muncie!


John’s quote from MWW 2010…”Over the years, I’ve participated in more conferences than I can count, but time after time, Midwest Writers Workshop ranks among the best of the best. The students are anxious to learn, the faculty comes to teach, and the result is electrifying. Anytime you want me back, just say the word, and I’m there.”


John’s first Jonathan Grave novel, No Mercy, mentions Muncie, Indiana??

Jonathan Grave has an extraordinary job. He covertly rescues people. Moreover, he operates under his own system of justice. He does not go out of his way to abuse or kill people, but when he deems it necessary he does so without qualms. He does not so much operate in defiance of the police but rather, since his objectives are different, outside it. If it is necessary for some people to die in order that those objectives be fulfilled so be it.

For his services Jonathan is well paid. He has some military experience which is useful in developing rescue plans and he has connections which allow him to literally fly beneath the radar. He has handpicked his assistants, most notably, Venice (pronounced Ven EE chay) Alexander whose computer skills know no limit.

In this endeavor, Jonathan has been hired to find and rescue Thomas Hughes, the college age son of Stephenson Hughes. Thomas was abducted from his girlfriend’s home in Muncie, Indiana.