Midwest Writers Part 2: ALL THE KNOWLEDGE!

Last time I talked about the fellow attendees at Midwest Writers. An amazing group of writers at all different ages and stages of writing. Even over the past couple of days I’ve been contacted by several I talked to throughout the weekend who are now finding their way online and discovering just how crazy I actually am. But that’s neither here nor there.

Obviously, while a retreat where I just get to talk to a bunch of other writers for three days would have been fabulous, this is not what Midwest Writers is. They bring in a wide variety of very talented writers and teachers to share their tips and tricks with us, and to talk about their own processes. I was very impressed with the quality of the experts, so I highly recommend that you look up these people and their work.

Thursday I participated in an intensive session about novel-writing essentials. This was run by William Kent Krueger, or Kent, as he likes to be called. I’m going to be quite honest when I say I didn’t know much about Kent before taking his course. And I will be equally honest when I say he is one of my new favorite people and authors. I haven’t gotten far into the book of his that I bought, Ordinary Grace, but his words and descriptions are so beautiful…it’s easy to get lost in the words. Not only that, but his teaching style is so affirming and positive. I had planned to sit in the back, soak in the knowledge, and not say a word, but the way Kent responded to everybody in the class gave me the courage to read an opening paragraph I wrote for one of the exercises. The class was 6 hours long and I’ve never had a class move quite so fast. I couldn’t believe when it was over. Later, I got the chance to have my book signed and talked to Kent for a few minutes, and he is just as pleasant and kind one on one. He just wants to help writers. What a beautiful soul. I went to a couple of his other workshops, and sat at his table for the Buttonhole the Experts session. I also texted my dad to tell him to buy Kent’s books, and he told me he’s already read all of them. My brother, too, is quite a fan, and was pretty jealous of me, for good reason 😉

One woman who may have completely revolutionized how I look at writing is Jess Lourey. I attended a workshop of hers on writing funny, where I determined that I have no idea how to be funny on purpose. Which is fine. The workshop that possibly changed my life, however, was one on 7 steps to writing a novel. Honestly, going into it, I was like, come on, just 7 steps? How is that even possible? Besides, I’m a total pantser. Well, mostly. I usually play a lot of Mah-Jong and spend a lot of car and shower hours developing my plot and characters, and then I just see where the story takes me. However, Jess’ steps made a lot of sense, and I’m definitely going to try using them for my next novel, just to see the difference. As someone who hates continuity errors, I think it could help me a lot by not having to go back and check details every time I want to remember hair or eye color for a character. Plus, I often have periods where I just quit writing for a while because I get stuck, and it seems like using some of her techniques could prevent that or at least get me out of a rut. Fabulous.

One of the tables we sat at for the Buttonhole the Expert exercise (rotate tables every 20 minutes to talk to a different expert about a predetermined topic) was Kelsey Timmerman. I had already been impressed with Kelsey’s obviously enthusiasm for MWW and writers in general, and I was even more impressed talking to him in a small group. His topic was about writing from your “axis of awesome,” which was completely obscure, and which also drew me to the table. What Kelsey talked about was how to find your passions and combine them to create something unique. I love the idea of combining things that I’m passionate about. My most recent novel, REMEMBERING DIANA, covers the topic of human trafficking, which I am passionate about. Being able to write about it, use that passion to get information out about a very serious topic, was a rush for me, and I’m excited to figure out what other passions I can combine.

Daniel Jose Older gave several talks, as well as the keynote at the final banquet. He is a sci-fi/fantasy writer, and he also focuses on issues of “the other” in media and society. He was highly entertaining, and really made me think about the way characters are portrayed in my writing. Am I adhering to stereotypes, or have I managed to break free from them? I’m a little worried that the answer might not be what I’d hoped as I take a more critical look at my writing. He also pointed out that sometimes we are NOT the ones to write a particular book, even if we’re passionate about it. I firmly believe in writing from your heart, but I think it’s a good idea to examine the true motives behind the decision to write any particular story. His sessions made me think about my writing in a completely new way, in a way that will stick with me going forward.

The last person I want to talk about is Lori Rader-Day. Her debut, The Black Hour, just came out this month. I only got to talk to her for 20 minutes during the Buttonhole exercise, but here’s the thing about Lori. She is SO NICE. Even in my short time around writers I have seen how sometimes having a book out can go to your head. Lori was so humble and just so grateful for her opportunities, and was happy to share in part of her journey with whoever happened to sit down at her table. I bought her book immediately, without even really knowing what it was about. That is good marketing, people. Making me admire the person, not just the product. Love it.

Phew. That was long. Apologies, but not really, because each of these people deserve even more words than I was able to commit to them today. Next up…general observations! Maybe.

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