Posts

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

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

Yes, MWW loves to celebrate writers.

And now it’s Annie Sullivan we celebrate!

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

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

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

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

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

Meet MWW20 faculty member Sarah Aronson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Register for Virtual MWW20 here today!

What?!! ALL 23 sessions!

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Something, I hope, more than worry.

Something, I hope, more than hoard or blame.

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

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

And I invite you to join us for Virtual MWW20.

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

Register for Virtual MWW20 here today!

Yep. We’re going virtual, too

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

MWW20 Virtual Conference

Monday – Saturday

July 20-25, 2020

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

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

Our online conference features:

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

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

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

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

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

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

**Can’t attend all the sessions live? No problem. MWW is offering archival video access to ALL attendees for ALL sessions and the content from other faculty members, allowing you to audit other sessions at your convenience during MWW20 and for the following four weeks.

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

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

No more choosing among breakout sessions. Attend ALL 24 sessions live or watch recorded sessions for up to one month later. You can even rewatch sessions you find particularly helpful.  You’re getting more sessions for less money, and you can attend in your PJs!

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find the entire schedule: here.

Find the faculty bios: here.

Register HERE!

 

Pitch to Jennifer Grimaldi at MWW 2020 Agent Fest!

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Jennifer Grimaldi

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

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

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

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

Jennifer’s Wish List:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Register Today!

Pitch to Patricia Nelson at MWW 2020 Agent Fest!

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Patricia Nelson

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Come and meet Patricia!

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

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.

 

YA writers! Want to think like a teenager? Author Barbara Shoup can help!

Meet Mini-conference faculty Barbara Shoup!

Barbara Shoup is the author of eight novels, including  An American Tune, Wish You Were Here, and Looking for Jack Kerouac and the co-author of Novel Ideas: Contemporary Authors Share the Creative Process. Her short fiction, poetry, essays, and interviews have appeared in numerous small magazines, as well as in The Writer and the New York Times travel section. She is recipient of the PEN Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Working Writer and the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award, as well as numerous grants from the Indiana Arts Commission and the Arts Council of Indianapolis. Two of her YA novels were selected as American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults. She is the Executive Director of the Indiana Writers Center and a faculty member at Art Workshop International.

During the MWW Super mini-conference hands-on Friday morning session, Barb will teach “YA: Think Like a Teenager.” When asked for advice about writing for children, Maurice Sendak responded, “I don’t write for children; I write as a child.” This workshop will bring out your inner-adolescent to help you identify and explore universal issues and events of adolescence that still resonate for you and offer strategies for shaping them into novels that appeal to kids today. Participants may send the first two pages (double-spaced/12 font) of their YA novel, and Barb will comment generally on what works and what…doesn’t. Email midwestwriters@yahoo.com with “Barbara Shoup YA submission” in subject line, postmarked by July 2 (or at least by the first week of July).

Barb will also teach a session “Writing Your Life.” Maybe you want to tell the stories of your life for your family, maybe you want to write them as a way of understanding the aspects of your life that shaped you and brought you to this moment. Maybe you want to explore the stories of your life for fiction. “No matter why you want to write about your life,” Barb explains, “this workshop will teach you how to identify the memories worth writing about and offer both exercises and inspiration guaranteed to help you write them down.”

Former MWW intern Caroline Delk asked Barb a few interview questions for some advice to the attendees and to help us learn a bit more about her as a writer and faculty member.

MWW: A lot of famous writers–Hemingway and Michener–always wrote in the morning because they said they were most creative before noon. How about you? When do you write? How long is a typical writing session? Do you take breaks? Are you a M-F writer or does your work spill over into the weekend, wee hours, Christmas, etc.

I write in the morning, before I do anything else. I usually get a couple of hours in before I have to start paying attention to the real world. I write most days, even weekends and holidays. Occasionally, I get lucky and can get away for a few days of nothing but writing, which is heaven. I’ve also done two-week residencies at Ragdale, which is super-heaven. A cozy room, the energy of fellow artists, and a fabulous meal every evening. It can spoil you! On these retreats, I might work as many as fourteen hours a day. The opportunity to work like that for a number of days in a row is especially helpful to a novelist because you live in the book, feel its rhythms, and have these moments when you hold the whole thing in your head and know exactly what you’re supposed to do. It’s amazing!

Part of becoming a writer, though, is figuring out what kind of writer you are and learning to work within the perimeters your life allows. Some people write best at night, some in the afternoon. Some people have obligations that dictate when they can write. Some write in spurts, some every day. Some set a timer and write until it goes off. Some set a word count for each day and write until they meet it. Whatever works is what you should do.

MWW: When you hit the wall and nothing is working on your computer screen, how do you clear your head and refresh? Do you power down and go to a movie, or do you just keep pounding the keys? Advice? 

I tend to try to power through, even when my sensible side tells me that I’m past the point of productivity. I’m not good at relaxation. Balance is not my strong suit. A story is a series of problems to solve, and I get so obsessed that I can’t rest until I’ve solved whatever problem I happen to be facing. I cluster, I freewrite. I make timelines and calendars and maps to help me see whatever I’m missing. I write at the top of the page: Who are you and what are you doing in my story–and let my character answer. I break down a scene I see in my mind’s eye but can’t seem to write into who/what/when/where/why and write about each one of those elements until I write “one true sentence” that finally sets the scene moving.

MWW: Novelist Sidney Sheldon once said he never had a character sit down at a restaurant and order dinner unless he (Sheldon) had eaten at that restaurant and ordered the same meal; he wouldn’t have a character wander the streets of a city unless he (Sheldon again) had roamed those same streets. Talk about research. How do you create a sense of place? Do you go on site, take notes, etc., or do you leave it to your imagination?

I think you owe it to your readers to make sure that everything about the world of your novel is as authentic as it can be. So I read everything I can get my hands on about whatever I need to know to make the story real. I watch movies; look at catalogues, photos, newspapers, and recipes; listen to music from the time. 

These days, with the wonder of the internet, you can do the research for a novel without visiting the places you’re writing about. But it is a great gift to be able immerse yourself in your characters’ world–and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do that with my work. Standing where my characters stand, seeing what they see, I understand the boundaries of their existence in a visceral way. Being in the real world of a novel-in-progress enriches my imagination, and brings deeper, more sympathetic understanding of my characters’ struggles.

MWW: We’ve heard that a writer shouldn’t ask friends, family, and colleagues to read and make suggestions on a manuscript-in-progress. But we’ve also heard that a lot of successful writers have “beta readers.” What are they; what do they do; do you have one; and how can I find one?

My only rule for when and how to ask for feedback about your work is to be sure that you ask someone who is capable of understanding what you are trying to accomplish, capable of being objective, and knows enough about how stories work to be able to make useful observations. (This usually, but not always, excludes your mother and/or your best friend.) That’s all a beta reader is, really. I have several–some writers, some serious readers. I might ask them to read a novel-in-progress if I’m stuck and feel like I can’t see the novel clearly any more. More often, I wait until I finish a draft.

I also belong to a small writers’ group that meets every other week. Each of us brings whatever we’ve been working on since we last met–a story, an essay, a chapter of a novel. The regular meetings provide a kind of discipline: I don’t want to waste the opportunity for their input by not having something to bring. Ongoing critique of a work in progress often offers insights that shortcuts the process.

It’s important to develop your own personal community of writers, whether you communicate with them online or in person. Go to writers’ conferences, take classes, attend readings and other literary events, and keep an eye out for people who seem to be on your same wavelength. Invite them for coffee, talk about writing. In time, you’ll find the readers you need to help you see where your manuscript is working and where it needs improvement.

Come meet Barb!

To register for MWW Super-Mini, go here.

We have UPDATED the full schedule for the Super Mini-conference, read here.

To review the faculty bios, read here.

MWW Super Mini-conference, July 27-28

MWW Super Mini-conference — July 27-28 at the Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, Indiana. Friday 8:30 am through Saturday 12:30 pm.  A dynamic day-and-a-half with a decidedly different structure—shorter, smaller, less expensive, with a strong emphasis on helping you reach your writing goals.

This MWW Craft + Community super mini is designed for writers of every level in their careers.

Whether you’re a published author or a novice exploring writing for the first time, you’ll find your place here, among teachers and fellow writers in a small group environment. It’s time to grow your network and nurture your identity as a writer. We have mentors to help.

Press the reset button.

At MWW Craft + Community, you’ll experience a day and a half—long enough to get away and refocus your energy on your writing, yet short enough to accommodate your busy schedule. Come enjoy the camaraderie and receive useful guidance!

This “super mini” offers eight in-depth, hands-on interactive, small class size sessions taught by experienced, accomplished, and professional faculty:

  • Holly Miller: Manuscript Makeover
  • Matthew Clemens: Developmental Editing
  • Brent Bill: Writing from the Heart: Soulful Creativity
  • Lou Harry: Nonfiction, Writing About Everything
  • Larry D. Sweazy – Fiction, Writing Your First Novel
  • Barbara Shoup – Think Like a Teenager
  • Lucrecia Guerrero – From Where You Dream
  • Maurice Broaddus – World Building: How to Out-Imagine Your Reader

Our programming focuses on key areas such as craft improvement, genre knowledge, finding critique partners, and forming writing support groups to help improve your writing. Get feedback from experts and friendly peers. Sharing your work and reading your work will allow you to pinpoint sagging plot lines, breaks in character and more. The give-and-take, along with honest feedback, is a win for all.

We’ll have fun activities to help you find a writing community. Writing is a solitary act, a leap of faith in which we work to bring the ideas in our head, our own experiences, our research and our true and imaginary tales to life on the page. Because we labor alone, we need a community of honest supporters who can help us to see what works in our stories and what doesn’t.

MWW Craft + Community wants to give you that community. You’ll return home with new skills and insight into your writing. You’ll return home with new writing friends.

And there’s a space waiting for you.

Secure your spot today.

Cost: $199

REGISTER

[For a statement from our board, read here.]

Book Review: THIEF OF LIES by Brenda Drake

[This post is the fifth in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

Family Secrets Bite

Title: Thief of Lies
Author: Brenda Drake
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Copyright 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63375-221-4
Format: Hardcover
Genre: YA Fantasy Fiction
Book I of a Library Jumpers series

 

Family secrets really come back and bite Gia Kearns hard in Thief of Lies by Brenda Drake. Gia and her two best friends, Afton and Nick, go to a library in Boston just like it is any other day of summer vacation, but everything they believe they know changes when Gia accidentally says an old Italian phrase over a book causing them to jump into the book and come out in a library in Paris, France.  The world really goes further upside down for the three friends when they see a hound/rhinoceros beast start to chase after them, but ends up being stopped by a group of teenagers dressed up in gladiators type gear, with swords on and everything, right before the hound beast tries to eat them. The three friends have no idea what the heck is going on.

They discover a world with dangerous creatures that want to kill all three friends for just being plain old human. Once all three of them are safely back home, they find out this isn’t the end of their exposure to this world. Gia must quickly figure out her place in this world that would label her as a danger and should be killed on site.

Arik went through the door. My heart sputtered as I scrambled up the last steps, ignoring the pain. I froze on the landing, stuck between two worlds, desperately clinging to one while called to embrace the other. If I went through the door, my mother’s stories would come true, and I could never go back.

She must become the Sentinel she was meant to be if she doesn’t want her family and friends to die at the hands of a crazy Master Wizard Conemar, who will do anything to rule both the magical and human world. Also on top of trying to save two worlds, Gia must decide whether or not to pursue a forbidden romance with another Sentinel or marry her betrothed. Both of whom she has feelings for and are ridiculously hot.

The novel’s pacing flows together really well. We get a bunch of action types scenes—different fights with different types of creatures—but in between the action scenes we get scenes where Gia starts to discover the history and the finer rules of how this world works. We get to discover these legends as Gia discovers them, which keeps readers on their toes because they only get part of a legend at a time; when it would actually be better to get the entire thing at the same time, because there is always that little detail that gets left out that affects everything.  Also the characters are so likeable. It is hard to choose which one to root for. And this doesn’t include all the relationships that are happening between everybody—secret ones or not. After all, you get a bunch of hormonal teenagers together in a life or death situation and something is bound to happen.

Fighting for what you believe in. This phrase could quickly wrap up what this story is about and help readers to connect with it, because is not this idea/concept something parents tell their children as they grow up. “Never give up your dreams,” “if you want something bad enough, then fight for it,” and “dare to dream for the impossible” are all things that I have heard from various coaches, teachers, professors, and friends in my life and this novel really brings this concept to the forefront of Gia’s life. She must take up a sword and fight for her right to live the life that she wants. She must decide when it is right to follow blindly and when it is better to forge her own path, which are life lessons every single person needs to someday learn for themselves. Thief of Lies allows readers to see that the fight might be hard and violent, but there is hope for a brighter outcome at the end of the fight.

By Abby Hoops