by Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant

Join Myriam Gurba for a Master class in Memoir at MCWC 2019

At MCWC, our mission is to amplify and celebrate vibrant, diverse voices whose work speaks to the remarkable spectrum of human experience. This year, in addition to our non-fiction and memoir workshops, the Master Class will focus on memoir and personal essay writing as well. We are thrilled to announce that the MCWC 2019 Master Class will be taught by Myriam Gurba.

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Myriam is a writer, a spoken-word artist, and a visual artist. She has written for Time, KCET, and The Rumpus, among others. Her debut book, Dahlia Season: Stories and a Novella, won The Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, and was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. Her collection of short stories, Painting Their Portraits in Winter, explores Mexican stories and traditions through a feminist lens. Her latest book, Mean, is part memoir, part true-crime and combines humor and honesty to describe Myriam’s coming-of-age as a queer, mixed-race Chicana in Santa Maria, California. Mean was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in LGBTQ Nonfiction and a finalist for the Publishing Triangle Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction.

Myriam shared with us a little about her writing process and her plans for MCWC 2019’s Master Class in Memoir.

Mean combines poetry and prose, breaking from a conventional narrative structure. The New York Times called it a memoir, your publisher, Coffee House Press, called it a nonfiction novel, The Rumpus called it a “series of vignettes,” and Pacific Standard called it “radically experimental,” and an “unconventional coming of age.” How would you describe your book? In your writing process, was the play with form and language natural or did it come through intentional revision? 

I might call it an experimental true crime book. Sexual assault is a crime but I wasn’t interested in writing about sexual assault according to the literary and paperback scripts that I’d consumed, so I set out to write about such crimes weirdly. I’m fine with all the other things the book has been called. There’s truth in all those names. The play with form and language is both natural and comes through intentional revision. I knew that if I wanted to write about sexual assault and PTSD, a linear format wasn’t going to make sense because PTSD disrupts the linear. So from the get-go I knew I was going to have screw with structure. I knew that structure, or the seeming lack thereof, was going to have to jar the reader. If sexual assault fucked me up, it had to fuck up my reader too and not just emotionally but also through perceptions, and misperceptions, of time and space.

Before Mean, you published fiction and short story collections, including Painting Their Portraits in WinterDahlia Season: Stories and a NovellaWish You Were Me, and more. How did you come to switch to non-fiction? Was there a difference in your writing process for creating Mean, compared to your previous works?

There wasn’t a switch for me. I was writing nonfiction when those fiction collections were published but my nonfiction didn’t interest anyone so it collected dust, fur, dandruff, and cobwebs. Sometimes, I bump up against a dumb moral concern when I write fiction where I feel like a “liar.” LOL. And then I feel bad for lying and then I have to remind myself that that’s the point. Maybe that’s because I was raised Catholic.

Writing Mean was different from a lot of writing I’ve done because I was scared to write some parts of it and I’ve never been scared to write anything before. I’ve never avoided writing about something or written around it before, and there were some parts of Mean where I did that. Fear made me procrastinate. Also, there were times when I was writing during which I broke down crying, sobbing over events and horrors that I’ve never let myself cry about “in real life.” I got to cry about them when I wrote about them. I got to feel through those events by writing about them and I did so in a way that I couldn’t when I was living through them. It was kind of like visiting a grave, a tomb, an altar, and feeling safe enough and private enough to cry now. That’s not to say that writing Mean was healing. It wasn’t. My dad doesn’t seem healed when he visits his father’s grave.

 

In Mean, you don’t shy away from painful territory, including rape and sexual violence, systemic and internalized oppression, and anti-Mexican racism. You treat these themes with humor and blunt honesty. What was the publishing process like for you with this book? Do you have any advice for writers tackling issues of race, gender, oppression or sexual violence in their work?

I self-published part of Mean as a zine called A White Girl Named Shaquanda. I sold the zine and gave it away too. AWGNS mostly focused on my junior high experiences which then became the first third of Mean. The publishing process wasn’t front door. I didn’t walk in
through the publishing world’s front door. I climbed in through the bathroom window with a boost from feminist friends. Emily Gould asked me to submit a manuscript to her imprint at Coffee House Press and that was how Mean happened.

To people who are writing about race, gender, oppression, and sexual violence I’d say, read how other people are writing about those things. Then don’t write like those people. Write differently. Also, humor is okay. Even if you’re writing about rape. Who needs a good laugh more than a rape victim? I mean, maybe a murder victim, but that’s what heaven and hell are for. Hell sounds like so much fun sometimes.

You are a full-time high school teacher. In this interview in Truthoutyou mentioned teaching high school requires the ability to hear tough stories. Teaching memoir and personal essay writing probably requires the same skill! What can participants expect from your workshop? 

Participants can expect me to be loud and to talk too fast. I will probably encourage some participants to not fall in love with their own work and I will rail against clichés, most likely while using clichés. I hope, though, that we’ll have fun, because fun matters. Once we start to have too much fun, I’ll revert to rigorous bitch.

 

Books like Mean have been important pieces of the larger national conversations about sexual violence, #MeToo, and issues relating to race and gender. In what ways would you hope to see writing continue to influence these conversations? What do you hope writers will take away from your workshop about creating art in the current cultural climate?

I hope to read more and more and more by women. I hope women are given more and more and more platforms. And I hope for that not only in the writing world but the world, period. Women are still “the second sex,” we’re not equal, patriarchy is a thing, a legitimate thing that suppresses women’s potential to be the kick ass people we are capable of being. The real reason so many men are scared right now isn’t because they’re afraid of being “falsely accused” of  “sexual misconduct.” I HATE THAT EUPHEMISM. What they’re afraid of losing is their masculine birthright. They’re being told that the world is NOT their oyster and that it never was and that our oysters are NOT their oysters.

I want to read women’s accounts of how sexual abuse and violence aren’t isolated and limited to one or a few episodes in our lives. Most women experience such abuse and violence across our lifespans, it’s like that dumb movie Groundhog Day, and the story of enduring it over and over and over and over is one that needs to be told and told and told so that the scope of the endurance-based sport I call “being a woman” is more truthfully communicated and not waxed and plucked for masculine consumption. I hope that writers who participate in my workshop not only leave understanding that the personal is political but, more importantly, that the personal is politiclol.

What do you like to do when you’re not teaching or writing?

When not teaching or writing, I like to have my back scratched, my feet rubbed, and to be given money.


The Master Class with Myriam Gurba is a juried-in workshop, restricted to only twelve participants. Applications will open January 1 and close February 15. Please visit mcwc.org after January 1 to apply.

Keep an eye out here for more introductions to MCWC 2019 faculty. To make sure you don’t miss an announcement, subscribe to our newsletter!


by Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant

Meet MCWC’s new executive director

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We are thrilled to welcome Lisa Locascio as our Executive Director! Lisa brings a strong background in teaching, editing, and writing to the leadership role. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from USC and an MFA in Fiction from NYU. She is co-publisher of Joyland and editor of its West section, as well as of the ekphrastic collaboration magazine 7x7LA. She edited the anthology Golden State 2017: The Best New Writing from California and her work has received honors including the 2011 John Steinbeck Award for Fiction and the 2017 International Literary Award Penelope Niven Prize in Creative Nonfiction. Her novel, Open Me, was published in August by Grove Atlantic to great success.

Lisa has a passion for MCWC born out of her own history with the conference. She attended MCWC 2012 on a scholarship and won that year’s short story contest. She returned as faculty in 2015 and again in 2017.

For this month’s newsletter, Lisa shared a little more about herself and her plans for the conference:

Congratulations on the huge success of your debut novel, Open Me. It’s been featured in The New Yorker and The New York Times, among other accolades. How was the process of publishing your first book? 

Publishing Open Me has been more wonderful, challenging, rich, frightening, and rewarding than I could have dreamed—and publishing a book has been my dream since I was a little girl! I was able to combine my move from Connecticut to California with my book tour, and it was an incredible honor and pleasure to meet readers across the country. It was amazing to meet readers who discovered my work through my book and to see the friends who came out to support me. The experience of having Open Me in the world has been heady and rich, and scary too. The anxiety doesn’t end at publication. I find myself wondering, will people read my book? And if they do, will they understand it? Even with high profile positive reviews, it’s easy to fixate on terrible Goodreads comments. Such is the nature of the writer’s life. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to experience all of it, good and bad. Overall enormously good!

 
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How does being the Executive Director for MCWC align with your passion for teaching and writing? 

Teaching is a powerful part of my creative practice because it brings me into contact with so many different types of people and provides a delightful social corollary to the solitary act of writing. I’ve always loved crafting my work, but I also get lonely from all those hours of intense solitary concentration. The performance, engagement, and dialogue of teaching appeals to my sensibility as a student of human behavior and an unyieldingly curious watcher. Becoming Executive Director is a natural next step in my career and enables me to serve and develop a literary institution that has made an enormous difference in my life. Here on the Mendocino Coast, I get to be both director and professor, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the students in my English and Creative Writing classes at Mendocino College. 

After experiencing MCWC as both a participant and a faculty member, is there anything you would like to improve as the Executive Director? What are your hopes for MCWC? 

I love the conviviality and genuine friendliness of MCWC, the dynamite combination of the sublime landscape and the remarkable people who gather for that special weekend. As Executive Director, I look forward to celebrating, strengthening, and expanding the conference’s profile on the Coast and in the world. I want to see more international scholars and teachers, as well as representation of writers from the local tribal nations and Latinx community at our conference, and to open up a conversation between MCWC and fellow annual gatherings of artists and writers such as the Tin House Writers Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Prague Summer Program. I’d love to see workshop offerings in nature and travel writing and potentially in some new genres such as radio storytelling and graphic novel. The only thing I’d hope to “improve” is the addition of some dancing to the Saturday night banquet!

You started at MCWC as a scholar and now are returning as the Executive Director and have published and won many awards in the mean time. If you had three tips for aspiring writers, what would they be?

Read. Don’t stop reading. Did you read already? Time to read some more, then. Read what you love, read what you don’t, read everything. Ask for recommendations. Develop opinions and challenge and change them. Read things you can’t imagine anyone else would want to read and read what everyone else seems to adore but you think you’ll hate. Understand that everything you read is part of your writing. Understand that reading is your most powerful tool for improving your writing. 

Don’t be afraid to be yourself. This sounds basic, even cliché, but is actually incredibly important if you want a career as a writer. Be upfront about understanding who you are. It’s what will make your writing authentic and worthwhile. 

Lean into revision. All writing is rewriting. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a lying charlatan who should not be trusted. Your revision practice should be a vibrant, life-affirming part of your writing—proof and reassurance that you can fix anything. Revision is the flexible and fluid cerebrospinal fluid of the creative process. Get into it. Listen to it. Prepare to be confounded, frustrated, troubled, delighted, and well-served. Revision is your friend.

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When you’re not reading and writing (and revising), what is your favorite way to relax? Do you have a ‘happy place’? 

I love to cook and have been having a lot of fun with my new Instant Pot, which enables me to make one of my favorite staples, dried beans, in incredibly short periods of time (as well as pretty much anything else one could imagine). I am a witch, and spending time at my altar means doing cardwork with tarot and other oracle decks, casting spells which are usually but not always organized around a candle and working with rocks and crystals.

Mendocino is my happy place, the place I wanted so badly to live for so long. Here, I’m able to do so many things I love: pilates and yoga, hiking, and studying plant magic with the local herbalist Liz Migliorelli. I am also working on my next book, trying for the first time in my life to hold myself to 1500 words every time I sit down to write. While the act of writing is not exactly relaxing, it is exhilarating, and it reminds me why I’m here, the creative pulse that leaps behind everything I do. And after I’ve written, the feeling of having written is very, very relaxing indeed. 


Lisa and the MCWC board are already hard at work on next year’s conference! Be sure to keep an eye on this blog for announcements about MCWC 2019. And if you are missing Mendocino, you can click here to view Mimi Carroll’s beautiful photography of MCWC 2018.

To find out more about Lisa Locascio, check out her website at http://www.lisalocascio.com/.

by Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant

MCWC 2018 Success

 MCWC 2018 Executive Director, Shirin Bridges, greets the many first-time attendees at this year’s conference

MCWC 2018 Executive Director, Shirin Bridges, greets the many first-time attendees at this year’s conference

MCWC 2018 was our 29th conference, and many felt it was our best yet. We had more than 100 participants in nine morning workshops, including our first-ever screenwriting workshop, sponsored by Humanitas. Though the conference is now a month in the past, many participants are still celebrating their achievements at MCWC 2018.  

As a recipient of a Diversity Scholarship, Jamie Moor’s positive experience began before the conference started. “Receiving the scholarship gave me an instant sense of community at MCWC; I felt welcomed, celebrated and valued from the moment I walked in,” she said.

Laurie Skiba experienced a similar confidence boost as the winner of the MG/YA writing contest. “When I picked up my registration materials, I was touched to see the blue ribbon attached to my name tag. My MCWC experience would have been outstanding even without the writing contest award, but with it, it was turbo-charged.”

 Jamie Moor

Jamie Moor

 Laurie Skiba

Laurie Skiba

Both Jamie and Laurie found further success during MCWC 2018. “The Pitch Panel was the highlight of my experience at MCWC,” said Jamie, whose pitch caught the attention of the panelists, editor Susan Chang, bookseller Summer Dawn Laurie, and agent Duvall Osteen.

“When Duvall asked if I had an agent, I realized I’d been holding my breath and was so excited I don’t think I exhaled until I sat back down,” Jamie said.  “I felt so lucky to be able to connect with her, and all of the participants were so supportive and happy for me the rest of the conference.”

Laurie enjoyed the Blind Critique Panel, a new event this year. During this panel, moderator Jody Gehrman read participants’ anonymous submissions of 200 words to panelists Susan, Summer, and Duvall. “I was thrilled that my submission made it through the reading with no panelist raising her hand [to indicate she would have stopped reading there],” said Laurie. “And Duvall did ask to see more of that project.” 

 Jody Gehrman and the Blind Critique panel 

Jody Gehrman and the Blind Critique panel 

For first-time participant David Booth, the highlight of MCWC 2018 was the quality of his morning workshop, Master Class: The Art of Fiction, taught by Elizabeth McKenzie. “Going into MCWC 2018, I anticipated meeting and working with a lot of dedicated writers in a beautiful setting. That’s what happened. From the start, I felt a sense of collegiality with my peers.” 

David’s instructor, Elizabeth, enjoyed the conference as much as her participants did. “I was astonished by the quality of everything at the conference,” she said. “I loved my accommodations, I loved the students in my class, I loved all the people I met who worked and volunteered for the conference. The whole thing’s a treasure.”

 David Booth and fellow Master Class participants, with Elizabeth McKenzie

David Booth and fellow Master Class participants, with Elizabeth McKenzie

Laurie agreed that MCWC is a special conference. “I’ve attended other writing conferences but MCWC stands out as incredibly well-resourced given the highly-credentialed faculty, organized board and welcoming volunteers. I can see why people come back year after year. I’ve already pre-registered for MCWC 2019!”

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Molly Bee

MCWC would not be possible without our dedicated volunteers. Molly Bee has volunteered with the conference for the past three years. She finds the experience is well worth her time. “It’s an honor to sit in on afternoon workshops and listen to speakers at the public events, and the wealth of the outpouring is not lost on me,” said Molly. “For me, the brightest highlight of MCWC 2018 was the personal connections I made with attendees, faculty members, guests, organizers, and other volunteers.”

We would like to thank all our volunteers, as well as the generous donors that made the conference possible. We also owe a huge thank you to our esteemed faculty. To our talented participants, thank you for coming and we hope to see you again at MCWC 2019. To see Mimi Carroll’s photos of the conference, please click here. We encourage you to order a print as a memento of your time with us, and to thank Mimi for her involvement.

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by Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant

get ready. get set. go!

Registration for MCWC 2018 closed with record numbers, making this year’s conference our largest yet! We are excited to welcome many new faces to our community this year, so we’ve asked some veteran participants for practical tips to help our first-timers prepare. In this month’s newsletter, you’ll find everything you need to know to make the most of your conference experience (along with some photos, courtesy of Mimi Carroll Photography, to get you excited about your visit to the beautiful Mendocino coast).

Packing

“Pack layers of clothing! The weather can be sunny and hot one minute and quite cold and breezy the next. What Twain said, ‘The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco,’ holds true up here on the north coast.”  Leslie Wahlquist

“There’s no need to bring fancy clothes. You need to be comfortable, whatever that means for you and your natural style. Just be sure to bring good walking shoes so you can explore Mendocino during your time off.” Gloria Schoofs Jorgensen

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Preparing for your workshop

“It’s important to leave behind preconceived notions about your own work and to open your creation to the unpredictability of others. Treat the work of others with the same care and attention with which you’d like others to treat your own.”   Hunter Gagnon

“Come with an open mind and an open heart. Read your colleagues’ work closely, with love and appreciation for their hard work, then share your insights in the workshop and hear those of your colleagues.” Jane Armbruster

“When editing the submissions for your workshop, I’d advise you to read every piece twice. The first time through, put aside your pencil and let yourself enjoy it. Then when you edit the work on the second read, you’ll be able to share with the writer what you loved as well as what you think needs to be strengthened.” Marion Deeds

“In workshops ask broad questions, not specific ones that only relate to your work. Be considerate. Don’t dominate or consume all the air in the room.” — Terry Connelly

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Selecting Afternoon Events

“If you’re seriously interested in publishing, the pitch panel is a real eye-opener on what the long fiction market is looking for.” Ron Morita

“I’d encourage you to invest in individual consultations. It’s invaluable to have a pro focus on your material and give you personal pointers while you have their undivided attention. Also, be sure to come to the opening night reception. You’ll have a chance to see what the instructors are like and you can get acquainted with other classmates.” Gloria Schoofs Jorgensen

“Don’t underestimate what can be learned from the afternoon events, such as the pitch sessions, open mics, and the paths to publishing panel. There is always new insight and information to be gained from hearing another’s story.” Leslie Wahlquist

“Take advantage of open mics. Reading aloud in front of people lets you hear the flow and the rhythms of your work. It lets you see how your future readers will react to your words. (And don’t worry, we will think the funny parts are funny.) You will not find a more supportive, friendly audience anywhere than at this conference.” Marion Deeds

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Building your writing community

“Talk to staff and participants. Be friendly. Smile often. Respond to others by asking about them. Don’t just talk about yourself. Join social groups. Eat with others, both lunch groups on campus and groups going out to dinner.” — Terry Connelly

“Socializing between sessions is a good way to hook up with a writing group. Such groups are invaluable, not only for general reactions to what you have written, but also for the expertise provided by the occasional MFA professor, author, or editor you may run into through your social connections.” Ron Morita

“Cherish the connectionssome of the people you meet at the conference will become lifelong writing friends. They will be your best support network, a group of folks who know exactly what you’re going through when you write. You will always have the conference as a touchstone.” Marion Deeds

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Enjoying your time in Mendocino

“Pace yourself, try to leave time for writing and revising and reflection during the conference. There is a wonderful bookshop on Main Street and a great lobby at the Mendocino Hotel for tea or a glass of wine by the fire.” Leslie Wahlquist

“Beware of tiredness. Hydration, exercise, and remembering to take deep breaths throughout the day are all important strategies for taking care of yourself during the conference. Pay attention to what your body and your heart want to doit might be ‘all of it’ or it might be less.”  Earlene Gleisner

“Be inspired by Mendocinothe land, the sea, the light. Engage it by foot, by car, by any means available to you.” Jane Armbruster


The advice here is only a sampling of that provided by our generous contributors. To read their full responses, click here. And for more thoughts from the MCWC community, you can read last year’s advice article. We look forward to seeing you at MCWC 2018 in just a few weeks! 
 

by Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant

Faculty Spotlight: Guadalupe Garcia MCCAll

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For MCWC 2018 MG/YA instructor Guadalupe Garcia McCall, writing is an opportunity to effect change in both her readers and herself. Guadalupe’s first YA novel, Under the Mesquite, won the prestigious Pura Belpré Award, was named a Morris Award finalist, and received a Tomas Rivera Children’s Book Award, among many other accolades. Her two other YA books, Summer of the Mariposas and Shame the Stars, are widely read at public schools and universities all over the U.S. Her fourth YA novel, All the Stars Denied, is due for publication in September.

We spoke with Guadalupe about her favorite aspects of writing for the MG/YA market and the expertise she will bring to this year’s MG/YA workshop.

In this interview with Lee and Low Books, you described your first book, Under the Mesquite, as autobiographical. In it, the protagonist deals with challenges in her life through writing. How has writing helped you deal with challenges in your own life?

Writing has always been an outlet for me, a way of figuring things out and making sense of the world around me. Every time I’ve had something that I can’t quite understand, I turn to writing. It is through that process of exploration and discovery that I get to the root of what might be bothering me.

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This happened to me recently. I was asked to give a keynote at the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference (NLCLC) this year. I happily accepted and put the ideas aside because I usually have no problem coming up with something I want to say. However, as the time for the conference approached, I found myself more and more reluctant to hit the keyboard. Two nights before the conference I realized what was wrong: the world was encroaching on my creativity. I was overwhelmed with the horrible things that I was reading in my news feed and I couldn’t concentrate on the beautiful things I wanted to say at the NLCLC. So, I did what I always do. I wrote about those things, connected them to my need to write, my need to affect change in this world. Needless to say, my speech touched others. The truth is we’re all in this together, suffering the same ailments, burdened by the same social injustices. Writing helps us speak about and against the things that affect us all.

Under the Mesquite is a novel in verse. Summer of the Mariposas is a retelling of The Odyssey in a world of magical realism. Shame the Stars, and the soon-to-be-released, All the Stars Denied, are historical novels. What inspired you to write young adult books in three different sub-genres: poetry, fantasy and historical romance? 

I don’t limit myself when I write. If a good story comes to me, I sit down and tell it. It doesn’t matter what kind of story it is, contemporary, fantasy, historical, sci-fi, doesn’t matter. It’s the story that matters. I remember someone commenting that I had not yet learned to “brand” myself, that I was all over the place when it came to my writing career. I have to say, I don’t see myself that way at all. I see myself as a diverse writer. We are not just one type of person, defined by one kind of life: one culture, one food preference, one talent, one personality trait. As individuals, we’re multi-faceted. We have many different interests. Because I love learning, I read extensively, from every genre, and I write what comes to me—fearlessly and joyfully, because writing, like life, is to be enjoyed.

You talked about your writing process for Shame the Stars in this interview with Rich In Color. How was your writing process different for each book?

I wrote Under the Mesquite using what I would call an “episodic structure.” Every poem has its own story arc which feeds into the chapter’s arc which feeds into the book’s arc. This structure grew organically from the structure of the original manuscript, which was a collection of poems called, “Poems From Under The Mesquite.” However, when Emily Hazel, my editor at Lee & Low Books, and I started to structure it into a novel-in-verse, I decided that each poem had to stand alone. I wanted readers to be able to step back from the story and linger in each moment to reflect and connect with Lupita on an emotional level. For Summer of the Mariposas, I used Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” because I wanted it to be a strong retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey. As for the process, I just outlined it on my wall with sticky notes, replacing each Greek element with a Mexican myth, legend, or iconic character. It was like filling in a word puzzle. Fun. Fun. Fun. Shame the Stars was the hardest because of all the research. But I learned so much by digging through the Library of Congress online database. My search for information brought ideas for more books.

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How has teaching high school influenced your ability to write for the young adult market?

Teaching high school has been inspiring because I see how my students react when they hear about new things like “La Matanza.” Their need to immediately find and verify information is contagious. They question everything and reach for their phones to google things they don’t understand. I love that. I want to learn with them and so I keep looking for things they’re interested in, and that influences my writing. I want to bring them things that will make them think, question, dig deeper, and hopefully take action.

Can you tell us about your workshop, The Magic of MG/YA Novels? What do you plan to share with workshop participants?

I want us to look at beginnings, middles, and ends from award winning MG and YA books from different genres and from all kinds of writers through the “writer’s lens.” We’ll talk about first lines, voice, point of view, tone, universal appeal, and literary merit. We’ll discuss how first pages are the most important pages when it comes to grabbing and keeping the reader’s attention. We’ll also practice using some of the skills we see working in these books. We’ll write, workshop our work, and talk about “next steps,” or what I call sustainability—how we plan to keep the writing flowing. We’ll make a plan and commit to finishing what we started, give the story the opportunity to take us where it wants to go, because all stories want to be told, we just have to give them our attention and time. We’ll leave the workshop filled with dreams and hopes and a good idea of where we’re headed as writers.

Many authors are not quite sure if they are writing for children, young adults, or adults. Why would it be beneficial for them to join your workshop?

I think looking specifically at MG/YA books through the “writer’s lens” will give us a good perspective of what our own voice sounds like—how it reads. When I first started working on Under the Mesquite, turning it into a novel-in-verse that could appeal to ages 10 and up, I didn’t know how to do it either. My editor explained some basic structural components of MG/YA, and so I had to tweak my story to fall in with those components. That’s what we’re going to talk about and practice using in my workshop—the story elements that are unique and important to MG/YA. Knowing this should help give writers some clarity about their audience and genre.


There are still a few seats left in many of MCWC 2018’s morning workshops, including Guadalupe’s MG/YA workshop. But registration closes June 30th and seats are filling up fast! Register now at mcwc.org

To find out more about Guadalupe Garcia McCall, visit her website at guadalupegarciamccall.com.

by Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant

Exciting new changes to MCWC leadership

We are proud to announce that we have a new, incoming Executive Director! Lisa Locascio (whom many of you know as MCWC faculty) will be taking over the leadership of the MCWC Board as soon as MCWC 2018 is over, in order to manage the year-long run-up to MCWC 2019. A new board member will be helping her—another face you may recognize: Kara Vernor.

 Lisa Locascio

Lisa Locascio

 Kara Vernor

Kara Vernor

Both Lisa and Kara have experienced the conference first-hand as participants. Kara first attended MCWC on a scholarship in 2011 and won the short story contest. She met Lisa in the short story workshop the following year. That year, it was Lisa’s turn to receive a scholarship and win the short story contest.

Kara especially loves the community created by MCWC. “MCWC is a special conference. It has what you might expect—quality faculty and a variety of learning opportunities—but it’s also welcoming and intimate and, of course, located on the beautiful Mendocino coast. I met some of my best writer friends while a conference participant, friends I’m still close with today.”

Since attending MCWC, both Kara and Lisa went on to build successful writing careers and have worked together on multiple projects. Both writers returned to MCWC as faculty: Lisa taught the short fiction workshop at MCWC 2015 and the emerging writers’ workshop at MCWC 2017; and Kara taught a seminar on flash fiction at MCWC 2017.

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Becoming the Executive Director of a writers’ conference is a natural next step for Lisa. “I have taught writing at universities, graduate schools, summer camps, mentorship programs, and as a tutor; I have edited literary magazines large and small, as well as an anthology. My passion is for creating literary communities for everyone: inviting, safe, dynamic places where people can experience and experiment upon the wonder of the written word. As Executive Director, I’ll be able to apply my diverse experience to the broadest demographic yet.”

Lisa and Kara plan to continue the conference’s current growth. “I returned as faculty five years after I had last been a participant,” explained Kara, “and in that time it seems the board has drawn a more diverse pool of participants and faculty. I hope to continue these efforts, so the conference is truly welcoming to, and helpful for, all who attend.”

Lisa added, “As a participant and teacher, I’ve had the best possible experiences at MCWC, and I want to continue to deliver the conference’s uniquely inspiring brand of creative welcome. The cultivation of an inclusive, warm, and fun environment is my priority, as is populating the conference with as many different types of people as possible, so that all participants can see their experiences reflected and validated by a diverse group. I believe that amplifying voices that might otherwise struggle to find recognition enables all of us to rise as a circle.

“I’d like to partner with the community in a bigger way, to bring in scholars and teachers from local tribes and reservations, Mendocino College, and neighboring Humboldt and Lake Counties. I will work to expand our incredible donor base and bring MCWC up to speed with other local events such as the Mendocino Film and Music Festivals.”

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Kara will use her experience as a grant writer to bring in more support. “I imagine looking for grant opportunities that fund scholarships for low-income participants, draw quality faculty, and, above all, help sustain the conference. The MCWC makes a huge cultural contribution to life on the Mendocino Coast, and there are likely funders who want to help preserve this enrichment.”

In conjunction with their plans for growth, Lisa and Kara will maintain MCWC’s strengths. Lisa said, “My primary goal is to maintain the incredible conference my predecessors have so carefully built. My dream is to build a bigger profile for the conference so that we can continue to attract the superlative and diverse teachers and students who make the conference so special.”

When asked about the secret to their successes—how they went from young writers participating at the conference to acclaimed writers and part of MCWC leadership—they both answered: Read!

“There is no great writing without even more great reading. Read what you love, read what you don’t, read everything.  Understand that everything you read is part of your writing,” said Lisa. “And don’t be afraid to be yourself. You can only do you, and ‘doing you’ means being governed by your idiosyncratic passions, experiences, interests, obsessions, and desires. Make a project of exploring and confronting yourself and use that knowledge in your work. It’s what will make your writing authentic and worthwhile.”

Reading and writing need not be solitary exercises. Kara recommended getting involved in literary communities. “Hosting a reading series, joining the staff of a journal, even connecting with other writers on Twitter can open up opportunities and help buoy you when you’re struggling with your own writing and the isolation it demands.”

While we wait to see what Lisa, Kara, and the rest of the MCWC Board will create with MCWC 2019, you can take their advice and immediately enrich your own writer’s journey: registration for MCWC 2018 is now open at mcwc.org.


To find out more about Lisa Locascio (and her new novel, Open Me), check out her website at http://www.lisalocascio.com/.

To learn more about Kara Vernor, check out her website at https://karavernor.com/.

by Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant

Hollywood comes to the Mendocino Coast

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We are thrilled to welcome Hollywood’s Nina Sadowsky to MCWC 2018! Nina will be teaching our first-ever screenwriting workshop, sponsored by Humanitas

Nina is a screenwriter, film producer, and novelist. Her first novel, Just Fall, is now in development as an original series for STARZ. Her second novel, The Burial Society, was published February 2018 by Ballantine Press. She has written numerous original screenplays and adaptations for such companies as The Walt Disney Company, Working Title Films, and Lifetime Television, and serves as adjunct faculty at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts program, teaching both writing and producing.

Nina will be teaching The Business of Show: Successful Screenwriting at MCWC 2018. This workshop will provide an in-depth view of writing for film and television. The mixture of lecture, in-class exercises and workshopping of participants’ material will reveal how material is pitched, developed and produced in Hollywood; give an overview of television and film story structure and craft; as well as provide tips for successful screenwriting that are also applicable to other genres.

Our Executive Director, Shirin Bridges, sat down with Nina to discuss this unique opportunity:  

Hi Nina, thank you so much for giving us the time for this interview. And an even bigger thank you, of course, for agreeing to give a workshop on screenwriting at MCWC 2018. It’s such an honor for us, and such a great opportunity for our participants, that Humanitas is sponsoring MCWC’s first screenwriting morning workshop. Can you tell us a little about Humanitas and the Woolf Pack, and about your involvement with them?

The Humanitas Prize is an organization that recognizes and promotes writing that explores and elevates the human condition in film, television and theatre. The organization sponsors several different initiatives, including the New Voices program that gives writers a chance to develop a TV pilot under the guidance of a seasoned mentor, and two college fellowships (one for drama and one for comedy, each of which come with a $20,000 cash prize for the winning student). This year, I became the Director of Educational Outreach for Humanitas and ran the college fellowships.

The Woolf Pack is a group of women, primarily TV and film writers and/or producers, also formed under the Humanitas aegis, who support each other and various initiatives for creating more opportunity for women writers. I’ve been a member of the Woolf Pack since its inception, so have seen the value of this kind of community first hand.

 

You will be teaching screenwriting from a rather unique vantage point: you’re an experienced screenwriter for both the small and big screen, but you’re also a very seasoned producer and you’re a novelist. How do you think those different perspectives are going to frame the workshop you give?

Film is the marriage of art and commerce more than any other art form. The multi-million dollar budgets most films command, along with the additional marketing costs required to make those films stand out in a crowded field, make that union indivisible. Understanding the craft of storytelling is essential for screenwriters, but understanding how the business works is just as important. My workshop will cover the creative aspects of writing a screenplay, such as character development, structure, the elements of drama, pacing, and transitions, as well as provide an understanding of how the business works so writers can best position their material for sale.

As I’ve expanded into publishing novels, which I am now also adapting for television, I have learned how to create a brand an identity for myself and my work. We’ll discuss branding in my workshop, as it is an essential tool for anyone working in media.

As someone who does both, how does putting on your screenwriting hat strengthen your work on novels or short stories—or nonfiction, for that matter? How has your novel-writing influenced your screenwriting?

Working in film has taught me why it’s important that character drive story, how theme influences narrative, the importance of perspective in a scene, how the reveal of information impacts pacing, the value of fluid transitions, and how to communicate character through action. I apply these principles to all my writing, regardless of medium.

One of the beauties of writing prose is that you can luxuriate in a character’s interior thoughts or take a digression to provide backstory or exposition, neither of which is true in screenwriting. I release a big exhale when I go back into writing a novel, happy to have that freedom. On the other hand, having learned to do without those tools as a screenwriter, I rely on them sparingly and tactically in my prose, which I think contributes to the “economy” or “control” in my writing that reviewers praise.

And let me share a trick: When starting a new scene for a novel, I close my eyes and put my “producer hat” on, envisioning what each department would have to contribute in order to bring that scene to life. Where’s the location? What has the production designer dreamed up? What mood has the cinematographer brought with lighting? Are there weather effects? What does the sound department have to contend with? How is the costume designer communicating character through wardrobe? This trick reminds me to think about the impact of a scene on all the senses and frequently provides unexpected creative opportunities. 

 

Many of our participants are interested in screen adaptations of their work, but I’m sure some might find joining this workshop a big leap. Many may not have actually put pen to paper on a screenplay. Obviously, if they sign up for your workshop, they’ll have to bring work to share. Do you have any advice for them that might make this a little less daunting? Tips on where to start so that they can give you the pages you need in three months? How many pages are you looking for, by the way? Or are you happy to work from synopses?

I’m less interested in pages than the important pre-writing process of identifying a) whose story is being told and b) what themes the writer wants to tackle and why. If someone has their own novel that they’re interested in adapting, they are already way ahead of the game as they have a full plot and presumably developed characters and themes as well. But writers are welcome even with just an idea. 

I firmly believe that voice is the single most important quality for any writer. Voice can’t be taught, it’s the unique combination of experience, research, perspective and lens that each of us brings to the keyboard. That being said, I teach techniques that show how to lay virtually any story across a classic film structure. My job is to help participants figure out how to best tell their story. In order to do that, I want each writer to send me:

a) a logline – a one sentence description of the plot
b) a synopsis – a one paragraph synopsis of the story (that also includes the genre and tone)
c) a statement of theme – a one paragraph statement about the universal themes of the work and why telling this story is important to the writer
d) the first scene – properly formatted 

I expect that during the course of the workshop participants will find the structure for their story or develop the tools to do so once they’re back on their own. So, the last thing I want people to do is rush to finish a full draft before we meet. 

I would suggest participants read a screenplay or two before the conference. Many are easily available online. Find a script for a film that you know and like and compare how the script compares to the finished film. Then watch a favorite scene with the sound off and dissect the visuals: see how much music and sound design contribute; how the production and costume design choices advance the narrative; what camera angles were chosen; how it’s lit, how it’s cut, etc. This will help prepare screenwriters for the understanding that a script is not a finished thing in and of itself but a road map for countless people in various capacities to follow and enhance.

We just had the Oscars last month with its emphasis on diversity and inclusivity—on bringing on those who have been long overlooked. You dedicate a lot of your time to teaching and mentoring, both with the Woolf Pack and for USC. Why do you feel it’s so important to nurture the next generation of screenwriters? Won’t talent just rise by itself?

I get more from mentoring and teaching then I’ll ever put out, so it’s purely selfish. I’ve taught at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts for ten years and have also taught at Syracuse University’s Semester in LA program (SULA), Columbia College Chicago’s Semester in LA program and Hedgebrook, as well as being asked to do fun “one offs” (like speak to engineers at Northrup Grunman about the power of creativity). I’ve always believed in mentoring and the last 10 years of formal teaching have brought me into contact with people from all over the world who have challenged my perspectives and taught me as much as I’ve taught them. I’ve also discovered that having to teach what I believe about writing and filmmaking required me to formally articulate those beliefs, which in turn helped my own mastery of them. Teaching and mentorship is all win-win for me.

After a couple of years of being a publisher, I realized I knew so much about the publishing industry that could inform the way I approached getting published—information I never had despite being a published author. How did your producing experience inform the way you wrote and pitched screenplays, and will you be covering what you learned in class?

As noted above, I believe a screenwriter can’t work successfully in the industry without an understanding of how the business works, so yes, I will definitely be including valuable information about such things as determining where content “fits” into the marketplace, demographics, and trends in buying and selling. I’ll also cover representation (the difference between managers and agents, for example) and how to “produce” one’s own career.

Having a Hollywood insider on the Mendocino Coast is really exciting—in fact, some of us might get a little star-struck! You’ve worked with Meg Ryan and Matthew McConaughey and Samuel L. Jackson and… So let’s end on why we shouldn’t be intimidated by you. What’s a goofy, human thing you do? First thing that pops to mind!

I am the least intimidating person on the planet! Frankly, I’m a big goof ball, so it’s hard to pick just one thing. But the first thing that pops to mind about my goofy self is that I love to dance, and do so around the house all the time. I have some skill in that regard (despite my creaky bones) having studied dance when I was younger, but I also sing out loud while I boogie, which everyone and anyone on the planet should be spared.

Thank you so much for your time today and in August, Nina. I am really looking forward to welcoming you to our conference.


You can register now for Nina’s screenwriting workshop, at mcwc.org.  To secure your spot, register as soon as possible—MCWC 2018 workshops are filling up quickly!

To find out more about Nina Sadowsky, check out her website at https://www.ninarsadowsky.com/.

To learn more about the Humanitas prize, please visit their website at https://www.humanitasprize.org/.

by Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant

Ready, set, REGISTER!

General registration for MCWC 2018 is now open! Don’t wait to grab your seat because all workshops and consultations are first-come, first-served. Explore mcwc.org to learn more about the workshops and afternoon seminars offered at MCWC 2018.  

When you register, sign up for the Saturday night closing dinner to hear our 2018 keynote address from Elizabeth Rosner. Seats at this event are first-come, first-served as well. 

Elizabeth is a bestselling novelist, poet, and essayist. Her debut novel, The Speed of Light, was translated into nine languages and short-listed for the prestigious Prix Femina. Blue Nude, Elizabeth’s second novel, was selected as one of the best books of 2006 by the San Francisco Chronicle. Her third novel, Electric City, was named one of the best books of 2014 by NPR. A poetry collection, Gravity, was published in the same year. Elizabeth’s first book of non-fiction, Survivor Café: the Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory, was published in September 2017 and has been featured on National Public Radio and in the New York Times.  

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Here’s a taste of the insight and passion she will bring to her keynote address: 

In an interview with Late Night Library, you mentioned writing as a form of personal transformation. How have you seen the transformative power of writing across all three genres—novel, poetry, and non-fiction—that you have published in? Was there a progression that led from your publishing novels to poetry, and now non-fiction? 

I can say in all humility that the gifts of the writing process continue to evolve for me. Sometimes I am clearly aware of what has transformed in my life, inner and outer, while at other times the changes are much more subtle (but no less profound). In writing novels, I’ve often experienced a sense of simultaneously delving into my own memories of people, places, and events, alongside deliberate questions like: “Who might I have been if I’d been born in a different decade or to different parents?” or “What if this had happened instead of that?” or “What if I combined these three real people into one?” or “What have I always wanted to learn about this place and its secrets?” Fiction allows me to become a kind of special investigator, and I get to indulge the part of myself that is insatiably curious, and to challenge the part of myself that can be dissatisfied with how things supposedly are. In poetry, I get to be transfixed by the sound of words, by the images that come to me unbidden, and by my wrestling match with lines and negative space. When I began writing poems, I felt a bit fraudulent, because I didn’t quite know what I was doing, but ironically perhaps I also came to trust that poetry gave me extra permission to be honest. I let go of some of my ambition, and paid much more attention to the process rather than the outcome. That was a crucial developmental moment for me as a writer. Most recently, writing a book of nonfiction has changed me in ways I haven’t quite assimilated fully yet. Maybe the most significant thing is that I’ve relaxed into a new form of confidence—at least in the sense that I feel a depth of self-recognition in my work, a quality of speaking in my own voice and from my truest source.

The themes of trauma and your experiences as the daughter of two Holocaust survivors are present throughout much of your writing. What appealed to you about looking at the same themes through different writing genres?

On the one hand, I’m astonished that the themes of my family legacy are so persistent in my writing, and yet, on the other hand I think: Why not? I came to a point in my life as writer where I simply had to make peace with the material that was “given” to me. My movement from one genre to another wasn’t to try to escape the subject matter so much as it was a following of some inner impulse to explore again from another angle. I happen to believe that form follows content—as in, the material tells us what it wants to be. So there were plenty of times where I had to wait a while to understand what genre I was going to end up with. In my most recent book, and in my poetry collection too, I was quite consciously combining forms and creating what many people are now calling “hybrid” forms. Coming back somewhat repeatedly to similar themes doesn’t feel repetitive if it’s a practice of looking at something through a kaleidoscope. The view is different each time. 

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In your latest book, Survivor Café, you broaden the discussion of inter-generational trauma and the lasting results of war atrocities to a wide range of recent historical events. How do you feel the message of your book is compelling and relevant today?  Why did you decide to write Survivor Café?

Broadening the discussion is, for me, absolutely essential if we have any hope of learning from history and finding ways not to keep perpetrating the same horrors over and over. In the present moment, we are all bearing witness to unmistakable evidence of unresolved historical trauma. What I feel compelled to do is to bring my own awareness into a public conversation, to take what I’ve been studying all my life (both personally and professionally) and to share it with as wide an audience as I possibly can. I wrote this book with urgency because of the soon-to-be-gone voices of Holocaust survivors and others who endured some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century; I wrote this book to promise that these voices would not be forgotten; I wrote this book to inspire empathy across the boundaries of time and place; I wrote this book as a plea for individual and collective responsibility and awakening; I wrote this book to help illuminate the intricate and strange interconnections we share as human beings; I wrote this book while feeling filled with despair and with hope, in almost equal measure. War and genocide and historical trauma must continue to be examined alongside our vast potential for resilience and creativity and compassion and healing.

In the interview on your website, you admit, “I am quite possibly the least organized novelist in the known world.” Were you more organized as a non-fiction writer? Survivor Café has a rich mix of personal experience and research. How did you organize so many different pieces?  

I must confess that I now feel as though I qualify for an award for least organized non-fiction writer too. Seriously. The main difference in this case was that I did have a working outline in the form of a sketched-out table of contents—but this was a very slender skeleton upon which to rely. My structural decisions often come to me after I’m well into the accumulation of my material, and this was true for Survivor Café as much as it was true for my novels. It seems that I am compelled to write in fragments, and they pile up (as well as scatter). Eventually I can’t tolerate the chaos any longer, and I begin to gather pieces into categories, which may or may not become chapters. It’s not a method I recommend, because it can be so alarming to be immersed in such confusion and uncertainty. But I also understand that the opposite of this—adhering to a rigid plan, for instance—would never work for me. My ideas take shape as I write; voice and intersections and images all lead me toward something I can’t quite know in advance. Even the research for Survivor Café, which was exhausting on many levels, couldn’t quite be contained by a strategy. Sometimes I imagine hiring an assistant to help me organize my work, but I can’t even imagine getting organized enough to tell an assistant what to do!  

Your first novel, The Speed of Light, was translated into nine languages, was a finalist for the Prix Femina and won the Prix France Bleu Gironde. Did your success overseas surprise you? What about your work, do you think, appeals across borders?  

Thanks to my brilliant editor Dan Smetanka, who purchased my first novel for Ballantine Books (Random House), foreign rights were indeed sold to nine countries, with Germany being the first. It was beyond thrilling to discover that my words would be translated into languages I didn’t know (that is, almost all of them), and a bit strange to know that readers would hold books in their hands that had my name on the cover but with different titles and images (foreign titles are often quite unlike the original titles—something I was shocked to learn). The truth is, though, I often felt, growing up, that I wasn’t exactly American; instead I felt more strongly connected to the European birthplaces of my parents and all of my ancestors. Also, because the setting of The Speed of Light includes not only Berkeley but also a handful of European cities, as well as an unnamed country in Central America, I hoped that the story would be meaningful across national and cultural boundaries. The theme of storytelling as redemptive, and the longing to connect deeply with others who can empathize with your emotional landscape—I imagine that these are essentially universal truths that do transcend nationality. 

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In all your years of being a mentor, teaching workshops and leading writing retreats, what do you feel is the most important service you offer writers? What drives your passion for helping other writers?

In my teaching I practice a form of deep listening, and give each writer and each group my full attention. I do this for a variety of reasons and with certain goals in mind: 1) in hopes of recognizing what is “already working” in a piece of writing so that I can play that back to the writer; 2) in order to help the writer know what it’s like to be received; 3) as a way to model and help develop a writer’s own practice of deep listening to the words and voices and images that are generated in the process of writing; 4) to create a safe and supportive community; 5) to build and reinforce empathy, which is an elemental tool of writing and reading and connecting with others; 6) to help myself and others to remember what it’s like to focus intimately and without distraction. 

After writing for so many decades now, I think my commitment is to share what I’ve learned from my own mentors and teachers as well as to share what I’ve learned through trial and error. As for passion, I sense so many of us are hungry for validation—not in the form of awards or prizes but in the sense of feeling seen and heard. I want to offer that to others whenever possible. I consider teaching to be a privilege, and I take the role very seriously.  

How do you plan to approach your non-fiction morning workshop, Deepening and Refining Non-fiction?

There is a wonderful quotation that I’m told comes from Ovid, and I keep it framed on my desk: “If you write truthfully and completely about anything, you write at the same time about everything. That is certainly one very significant message that I want to convey, although there is a great deal of nuance involved in considering what it means to “write truthfully and completely.” Non-fiction is not about so-called “facts,” for instance, nor is it about striving to become an absolute expert on a particular subject. That leads to a more complicated discussion of emotional honesty, and a willingness to write with uncertainty, and a humble transparency about what one does NOT know alongside what one knows. I’m a firm believer in writing as a process of discovery, following questions rather than answers. 


You can register now for the morning workshop of your choice, including Elizabeth’s non-fiction workshop, at mcwc.org.  To secure your spot, register as soon as possible—MCWC 2018 workshops are filling up quickly!

To find out more about Elizabeth Rosner, check out her website at http://www.elizabethrosner.com/index.html.

by Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant

only two weeks left!

If you are thinking about applying for a scholarship to MCWC 2018, now is the time to act. Or if you know of anybody who has never been to MCWC, now is the time to pass along this newsletter. Our First-Taste and Diversity scholarships are under-subscribed, so if you know somebody who would be a great addition to our community, please send this notice their way.

Applications are only open for two more weeks, and our merit-based scholarships provide more than financial aid—as juried validation of your writing skill, they are a great way to start building your author’s platform. But you don’t have to take our word for it. We spoke with some MCWC 2017 scholarship recipients about how receiving a scholarship benefited them.

“Receiving the scholarship removed the financial burden that would’ve been lingering in the back of my mind the whole time I was at the conference,” said Leslie Henderson. “Thoughts like, ‘Is this conference a worthy investment of my time and limited resources?’ were immediately resolved.”

 Jonathan Cardew

Jonathan Cardew

Jonathan Cardew was able to travel from Wisconsin to Mendocino because of the scholarship he received. But the benefit went beyond the money. “Creatively-speaking, it was a very welcome boost to my confidence, knowing that a committee had read my sample and offered the scholarship based on merit,” he said. “The writing life is littered with rejection and doubt, so these spikes of acceptances and awards really do go a long way in motivating you to continue.”

Helena Kim flew in from out of state as well. “The scholarship made it possible for me to attend the conference, without which I would have had a difficult time financially, especially since I had to travel from Hawaii.” A seasoned writer and National Book Award finalist, Helena appreciated the opportunity to attend MCWC 2017 because it reconnected her with a writing community. “The conference gave me a chance to get back into the literary loop and find out what’s going on in that world. I was pleasantly surprised by a strong sense of community that felt authentic and very supportive on every level.”

One of our scholarship recipients, Nicole Abdinghoff, traveled all the way from Germany. “I was very flattered that I received a scholarship for the very first piece of work I ever shared,” she said. “MCWC 2017 was the first writing conference I attended. From the very beginning I had the feeling that everybody was part of one big community and that it didn’t make a difference if you were attending for the first or the 20th time. Everybody was equally welcome. I was pleased to meet so many wonderful and smart people who shared their ideas, stories, and memories by writing, and who also showed interest in my person and my work.”

 Leslie Henderson

Leslie Henderson

 Nicole Abdinghoff

Nicole Abdinghoff

 Kelly Grogan

Kelly Grogan

Kelly Grogan also commented on the strong sense of community at MCWC 2017, especially in the Master Class workshop she attended. “I wanted to apply to the Master Class because I felt that it would be potentially more intimate and rigorous than another workshop. I was not disappointed at all! The class was warm and supportive, but we offered critical feedback that challenged and inspired each other to strive for better use of craft. There was a sincere feeling of community and connection in the workshop, and in such a short span of time—it was remarkable to experience.”

Leslie agreed that the writers she met at MCWC 2017 and the sense of community made the experience invaluable. “I felt as though I was taken seriously as a writer at MCWC. The people I met at the conference were from all walks of life and were passionate about their writing pursuits. They were friendly, encouraging, and not afraid to give or receive constructive feedback. I was also surprised at how friendly and approachable the panelists and industry pros were towards attendees!”

When asked what advice they might have for writers applying for scholarships, the answer from all the scholarship recipients was a resounding, “Just do it!”

“I sent my application in, I must admit, with little hope of actually being successful. I sent my best stuff and gave it a shot. That’s my advice: give it a shot!” said Jonathan.

Nicole said, “I highly recommend MCWC to any writer, no matter the passport you hold. Like everything else, writing has become a global business and it is always a good idea to have a look at how things are done in other countries.”

 Helena Kim

Helena Kim

“My advice,” added Helena, “is not to be shy about applying for a scholarship.  It not only helps with financial matters, but also, with one’s morale.  And my advice to other seasoned writers is that it helps to keep going to conferences and exposing oneself to the literary community and current literary world.”

To take advantage of the wide range of scholarships we are offering this year for MCWC 2018, visit mcwc.org. You can also apply for the MCWC 2018 Master Class: The Art of Fiction. This juried-in workshop, restricted to only twelve participants, will be taught by National Book Award nominee Elizabeth McKenzie and requires a separate application.

Hurry, applications close February 15, and no late submissions will be accepted! Don’t let this opportunity pass by. As Kelly says, “The chance to be around other writers, and to dedicate time to focus purely on your craft and passion for writing, is always worth it!”

If you are a past scholarship winner and not eligible this year, please pass along this newsletter and encourage a writer friend to apply!

by Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant

NOW ACCEPTING SCHOLARSHIP AND MASTER CLASS APPLICATIONS!

We’re pleased to announce that scholarships and Master Class applications for MCWC 2018 are now open! This year’s faculty is not only an all-star cast but a bigger cast than usual. We will be offering nine morning workshops, including a screenwriting workshop sponsored by Humanitas, a Hollywood non-profit founded and funded to foster screenwriting talent. Afternoons will be packed with craft seminars, one-on-one consultations, open mic readings, and more; and evenings will be full of the camaraderie and community we are known for. You can also add on our one-day Publishing Bootcamp, taught by the recognized authority on publishing in the digital age, Jane Friedman.

You can now apply for a range of scholarships designed to make our conference accessible to writers from diverse backgrounds and to reward writing of outstanding merit. You can also apply for the MCWC 2018 Master Class, The Art of Fiction. This juried-in workshop, restricted to only twelve participants, will be taught by National Book Award nominee Elizabeth McKenzie. But hurry, applications close February 15, and no late submissions will be accepted!

To apply for scholarships and the Master Class, please visit mcwc.org. Workshop and seminar descriptions are available so you can start planning your MCWC 2018 experience. General registration opens March 1. Take a look below for a sneak peek at this year’s faculty. 

 
 Elizabeth McKenzie

Elizabeth McKenzie

 Shanthi Sekaran

Shanthi Sekaran

 Vanessa Hua

Vanessa Hua

 

Master Class: Elizabeth McKenzie 

Elizabeth McKenzie’s most recent novel, The Portable Veblen, was long listed for the 2016 National Book Award for fiction. Her short fiction has been awarded a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The New YorkerThe AtlanticBest American Nonrequired Reading, and others.

 

Novel: Shanthi Sekaran

Shanthi Sekaran’s recent novel, Lucky Boy, was named an Indie Next Great Read, and an Amazon Editors’ Pick. Her stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Canteen Magazine, The Rumpus and LitHub.

 

Short Fiction: Vanessa Hua

Vanessa Hua is the author of Deceit and Other Possibilities, winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and a finalist for the California Book Award. She is a columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, and has written for The New York TimesWashington Post, and The Atlantic.

 
 Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Guadalupe Garcia McCall

 Linda Joy Myers

Linda Joy Myers

 Indigo Moor

Indigo Moor

 

MG/YA: Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s debut YA novel, Under the Mesquite, won the prestigious Pura Belpré Award, was named a Morris Award finalist, and received a Tomas Rivera Children’s Book award among many other accolades. Guadalupe’s 4th YA novel, All the Stars Denied, is due for publication in the spring.

 

Memoir: Linda Joy Myers

Linda Joy Myers is president of the National Association of Memoir Writers and author of the award-winning memoir Don’t Call Me Mother—A Daughter’s Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness. She has also written two books on craft: The Power of Memoir and Journey of Memoir.

 

Poetry: Indigo Moor

Poet Laureate of Sacramento, Indigo Moor is also a scriptwriter and author. He is on the advisory board for the Sacramento Poetry Center, a Cave Canem fellow, the resident artist at 916 ink, and a graduate member of the Artist’s Residency Institute for Teaching Artists.

 
 Elizabeth Rosner

Elizabeth Rosner

 Nina Sadowsky

Nina Sadowsky

 Jason S. Ridler

Jason S. Ridler

 

Non-fiction: Elizabeth Rosner

Elizabeth Rosner’s first book of non-fiction, Survivor Café: the Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory, has been featured on National Public Radio and in The New York Times. Elizabeth has also published three award-winning novels and her essays and poems have appeared in the NY Times MagazineElle, the Forward, and several anthologies. In addition to teaching the non-fiction workshop, Elizabeth will be this year’s keynote speaker.

 

Screenwriting: Nina Sadwosky

Nina Sadowsky is a screenwriter, film producer, novelist and entertainment lawyer (in recovery). Her first novel, Just Fall, is now in development as an original series for STARZ. She has written numerous original screenplays and adaptations for such companies as The Walt Disney Company, Working Title Films, and Lifetime Television. And she is the producer of movies as diverse as The House of Sand and Fog and The Wedding Planner.

 

Emerging Writers: Jason S. Ridler

Jason S. Ridler’s novels include Hex-Rated—the first installment of the Brimstone Files series for Nightshade Press, Rise of the Luchador, and Death Match.  He has also published over sixty stories. His next historical work, Mavericks of War, is forthcoming from Stackpole Books.

 
 Kerrie Flanagan

Kerrie Flanagan

 Gabriel Tallent

Gabriel Tallent

 Norma Watkins

Norma Watkins

 

Paths to Publishing: Kerrie Flanagan

Kerrie Flanagan is an author, writing consultant, publisher, and freelance writer. Her new book, The Writers Digest Guide to Magazine Article Writing, will be released in July of 2018.

 

Paths to Publishing: Gabriel Tallent

Once an MCWC Under-25 scholar, Gabriel Tallent’s debut novel, My Absolute Darling, was an instant New York Times bestseller and named one of the most notable books of 2017 by both The New York Times and The Washington Post.  

 

Paths to Publishing: Norma Watkins

Norma Watkins has published two memoirs, The Last Resort and That Woman From Mississippi. She is professor emerita at Miami Dade College where she held an endowed chair, and teaches creative writing for Mendocino College.

 
 Mark Gottlieb

Mark Gottlieb

 Duvall Osteen

Duvall Osteen

 Susan Chang

Susan Chang

 

Mark Gottlieb, Agent

Mark Gottlieb has ranked #1 among Agents on Publishers Marketplace in Overall Deals and other individual categories. He is an agent with book publishing’s leading literary agency, Trident Media Group.

 

Duvall Osteen, Agent

Duvall Osteen is a literary agent at Aragi Inc., where she’s had the opportunity to work with a long list of distinctive authors, including Junot Díaz, Edwidge Danticat, Denis Johnson, and Anne Carson.

 

Susan Chang, Editor

Susan Chang is a Senior Editor at Tor Books. She acquires and edits books for the Starscape middle-grade and Tor Teen young-adult imprints. 


2017+small+Jane+Friedman.jpg

Publishing Bootcamp: Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman is widely recognized as a leading authority on digital media strategy for authors and publishers (in other words, how to get published in this digital age). She is the co-founder of The Hot Sheet, the essential publishing industry newsletter for authors, a columnist for Publishers Weekly, and a professor with The Great Courses.

scholarships.jpg

by Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant

Meet our 2018 faculty! 

We’re pleased to announce the faculty for MCWC 2018! This year features not only an all-star cast but a bigger cast than usual. We will be offering nine morning workshops, including a screenwriting workshop sponsored by Humanitas, a Hollywood non-profit founded and funded to foster screenwriting talent. Afternoons will be packed with craft seminars, one-on-one consultations, open mic readings, and more; and evenings will be full of the camaraderie and community we are known for. You can also add on our one-day Publishing Bootcamp, taught by the recognized authority on publishing in the digital age, Jane Friedman.

Mark your calendars now, because scholarship applications open January 1 and close February 15. During this period you can also apply for the MCWC 2018 Master Class, The Art of Fiction. This juried-in workshop, restricted to only twelve participants, will be taught by National Book Award nominee Elizabeth McKenzie. More information on scholarships, Master Class, and our full conference schedule will be available at mcwc.org from the beginning of the New Year. Till then, read below for a sneak peek at the MCWC 2018 faculty. General registration opens on March 1, 2018.

 
 Elizabeth McKenzie

Elizabeth McKenzie

 Shanthi Sekaran

Shanthi Sekaran

 Vanessa Hua

Vanessa Hua

 

Master Class: Elizabeth McKenzie 

Elizabeth McKenzie’s most recent novel, The Portable Veblen, was long listed for the 2016 National Book Award for fiction. Her short fiction has been awarded a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The New YorkerThe AtlanticBest American Nonrequired Reading, and others.

 

Novel: Shanthi Sekaran

Shanthi Sekaran’s recent novel, Lucky Boy, was named an Indie Next Great Read, and an Amazon Editors’ Pick. Her stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Canteen Magazine, The Rumpus and LitHub.

 

Short Fiction: Vanessa Hua

Vanessa Hua is the author of Deceit and Other Possibilities, winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and a finalist for the California Book Award. She is a columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, and has written for The New York TimesWashington Post, and The Atlantic.

 
 Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Guadalupe Garcia McCall

 Linda Joy Myers

Linda Joy Myers

 Indigo Moor

Indigo Moor

 

MG/YA: Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s debut YA novel, Under the Mesquite, won the prestigious Pura Belpré Award, was named a Morris Award finalist, and received a Tomas Rivera Children’s Book award among many other accolades. Guadalupe’s 4th YA novel, All the Stars Denied, is due for publication in the spring.

 

Memoir: Linda Joy Myers

Linda Joy Myers is president of the National Association of Memoir Writers and author of the award-winning memoir Don’t Call Me Mother—A Daughter’s Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness. She has also written two books on craft: The Power of Memoir and Journey of Memoir.

 

Poetry: Indigo Moor

Poet Laureate of Sacramento, Indigo Moor is also a scriptwriter and author. He is on the advisory board for the Sacramento Poetry Center, a Cave Canem fellow, the resident artist at 916 ink, and a graduate member of the Artist’s Residency Institute for Teaching Artists.

 
 Elizabeth Rosner

Elizabeth Rosner

 Nina Sadowsky

Nina Sadowsky

 Jason S. Ridler

Jason S. Ridler

 

Non-fiction: Elizabeth Rosner

Elizabeth Rosner’s first book of non-fiction, Survivor Café: the Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory, has been featured on National Public Radio and in The New York Times. Elizabeth has also published three award-winning novels and her essays and poems have appeared in the NY Times MagazineElle, the Forward, and several anthologies. In addition to teaching the non-fiction workshop, Elizabeth will be this year’s keynote speaker.

 

Screenwriting: Nina Sadwosky

Nina Sadowsky is a screenwriter, film producer, novelist and entertainment lawyer (in recovery). Her first novel, Just Fall, is now in development as an original series for STARZ. She has written numerous original screenplays and adaptations for such companies as The Walt Disney Company, Working Title Films, and Lifetime Television. And she is the producer of movies as diverse as The House of Sand and Fog and The Wedding Planner.

 

Emerging Writers: Jason S. Ridler

Jason S. Ridler’s novels include Hex-Rated—the first installment of the Brimstone Files series for Nightshade Press, Rise of the Luchador, and Death Match.  He has also published over sixty stories. His next historical work, Mavericks of War, is forthcoming from Stackpole Books.

 
 Kerrie Flanagan

Kerrie Flanagan

 Gabriel Tallent

Gabriel Tallent

 Norma Watkins

Norma Watkins

 

Paths to Publishing: Kerrie Flanagan

Kerrie Flanagan is an author, writing consultant, publisher, and freelance writer. Her new book, The Writers Digest Guide to Magazine Article Writing, will be released in July of 2018.

 

Paths to Publishing: Gabriel Tallent

Once an MCWC Under-25 scholar, Gabriel Tallent’s debut novel, My Absolute Darling, was an instant New York Times bestseller and named one of the most notable books of 2017 by both The New York Times and The Washington Post.  

 

Paths to Publishing: Norma Watkins

Norma Watkins has published two memoirs, The Last Resort and That Woman From Mississippi. She is professor emerita at Miami Dade College where she held an endowed chair, and teaches creative writing for Mendocino College.

 
 Mark Gottlieb

Mark Gottlieb

 Duvall Osteen

Duvall Osteen

 Susan Chang

Susan Chang

 

Mark Gottlieb, Agent

Mark Gottlieb has ranked #1 among Agents on Publishers Marketplace in Overall Deals and other individual categories. He is an agent with book publishing’s leading literary agency, Trident Media Group.

 

Duvall Osteen, Agent

Duvall Osteen is a literary agent at Aragi Inc., where she’s had the opportunity to work with a long list of distinctive authors, including Junot Díaz, Edwidge Danticat, Denis Johnson, and Anne Carson.

 

Susan Chang, Editor

Susan Chang is a Senior Editor at Tor Books. She acquires and edits books for the Starscape middle-grade and Tor Teen young-adult imprints. 


2017+small+Jane+Friedman.jpg

Publishing Bootcamp: Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman is widely recognized as a leading authority on digital media strategy for authors and publishers (in other words, how to get published in this digital age). She is the co-founder of The Hot Sheet, the essential publishing industry newsletter for authors, a columnist for Publishers Weekly, and a professor with The Great Courses.

 *Barring any mishaps involving reindeers.

*Barring any mishaps involving reindeers.

by Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant

Making a list and checking it twice?

As we approach the holiday season, the wishes of the MCWC board and the many MCWC participants eager to understand the current publishing labyrinth have been granted: former Writer’s Digest publisher and widely recognized self-publishing guru Jane Friedman will be teaching the MCWC 2018 Publishing Bootcamp! 

To find out more about Jane, and for a load of useful links to get you off and running, keep reading. But first, we’d like to announce another way in which the MCWC board and all our wonderful donors can help make your wishes come true.

 *Barring any mishaps involving reindeers.

*Barring any mishaps involving reindeers.

 

Now, back to the great news about Jane!

Jane is an expert on writing and publishing in the digital age. She’s the ex-publisher of Writer’s Digest,  a columnist with Publishers Weekly, a professor with The Great Courses, a co-founder of The Hot Sheet, a publishing industry newsletter for authors, and the author of an award-winning blog for writers, JaneFriedman.com. She helped produce The Author’s Guild Guide to E-Publishing and presented the educational series, The Digital Age Author.

We spoke with Jane about her work helping authors navigate the world of publishing.
Here’s a sneak peak into the expertise she’ll be sharing at the MCWC Publishing Bootcamp in 2018!

You’ve often spoken on the importance of viewing social media as a fun extension of an author’s creative work instead of a marketing chore. How can authors explore the fun side of social media rather than feel the pressure of having to market and promote?

When you fall in love with a writer’s work—or at the very least you’re engaged by it—it’s often because of how they see the world. They have observations or interpretations that shed new light on the everyday, or jolt us into awareness. 

In fact, I think each writer is looking, daily, to do just that in their work. They seek that genius insight, that fresh way of looking at something, that will help their name and their story be remembered later. This could be through a matter of stylistic expression—a way of using a metaphor or an unusual word to describe something—or by applying a striking lens.

What does any of this have to do with social media? Social media is fundamentally expressive. It should be a playground for writers. Sadly, it’s also become a playground for a lot of mundane communication, vile activities, and annoying marketing and promotional pushes. But that’s what happens when the masses gather and express themselves. 

Rather than looking at this tool and focusing on its implied demands or deficiencies, writers can take control and use it for their own creative purposes. They can use it to practice their voice and expression on their own terms. Looking at social media and seeing the opportunity for creativity, especially in small bursts, is what makes it fun. As soon as it becomes obligation or something that must “pay off,” forget it.

You mentioned the idea of author collectives in a few different interviews—as marketing collaborations, business partnerships, even in your satirical book on the future of publishing. How do you see these collectives functioning? How do you think authors can support each other for the better success of all? Do you think the rise of social media and self-publishing will lead to more collaboration between authors?

Indeed, I think self-publishing has already increased collaboration tremendously, although most of it proceeds on an informal rather than formal basis. Self-publishing authors tend to be very sales-oriented in their collaborations, while traditionally published authors tend to be relationship-oriented (since the latter have greater restrictions on how they can share or sell their work).

Earlier this year, industry analyst Mike Shatzkin wrote a long post discussing how authors still need help with their digital presence and related marketing—help that traditional publishers are rarely providing. While he advocates for publishers to devote more resources to “author care” functions, he also discusses the potential for authors to collaborate among themselves to improve their situation, without the involvement of agents or publishers.

In the self-publishing community, authors have been helping and educating each other from the start (no one has the rule book, and the rules keep changing, so it’s something of an imperative), but in the traditional publishing community, that kind of activity is harder to find, with the best example probably being the secret Facebook group Binders Full of Women Writers and all of its attendant subgroups.

But Shatzkin pointed to an excellent example—on the traditional publishing side—of an author marketing co-op that’s becoming visible: Tall Poppy Writers. Founder Ann Garvin started the group in 2013 by asking other women authors if they wanted to be part of a collaborative marketing effort. The group now has about 45 members and specializes in books by women and for women—especially women in book clubs. Everything they do is reader-centric: their group newsletter reaches about 20,000 readers, and their new book club has 3,500 members. As far as the organization and management of the collective, there are core leaders, but every member is listened to and expected to contribute. The group helps channel authors’ frustration at lack of marketing help into an organized system that works on several levels. When I ran a Q&A with Garvin, she said, “We see immediate changes in ranking on Amazon when our Poppy network gets behind a title, and that eases the mind of the author. … There is no anxiety related to wondering if we could or should do more. The Tall Poppy network helps us control a small part of the process, and this can be wonderful for the entire publishing experience.”

But I should point out, as a caveat, “author collective” can mean a lot of things. Most frequently, the goal of a collective is sales or marketing. But perhaps we’ll also start to see large-scale production collectives like the Magnum Photographers’ collective, which was created after World War II in Paris to meet the business needs of major magazine and war photographers. A group of professional authors may want to hire the various elements of a publishing house for themselves, to service their production needs from editing to design and right on out the door to publication and marketing. If you dig hard enough, you can find a few burgeoning examples of this type of collective, such as Triskele Books, based in the UK.

In an interview for One Roof Publishing Magazine, you described yourself as the perfect balance of realist and optimist. Are there common mistakes and misunderstandings you see that affect the attitudes of new writers?

Writing and publishing success requires practice, study, and reading in one’s genre (preferably many genres), but this is rarely understood by writers who are coming to the business as a second career, or later in life, as something they’re “passionate” about—that they now have time to pursue. So, these new writers produce a book-length manuscript and somehow expect it’s going to be commercial-level and ready for the market. It rarely is, but they feel they’ve accomplished something special and important in writing a book. They have, on a personal level, but it’s only the first step in a very long road to commercial success. Some of my clients will nudge me for validation of their efforts; they’ll ask, “Should I continue?” and that’s an impossible question to answer. Do YOU want to continue? How important is this to you? I can’t make the decision for you. Nearly everyone who asks me this question should probably stop based on their demonstrated skills as a writer today, but that doesn’t mean they can’t improve and become a publishable writer in the future.

Writers can fail to see the importance of improving as a writer—to be able to look at what they’ve produced, see its weaknesses, and do better next time. There’s not much attention or respect for the process—the years of hard work—required to become a writer whose works can be successful in the market. 

In the About Me section of your website, you wrote that you “prefer to serve as a bridge.” You also mentioned in the written version of your presentation at LitFlow 2012 that your work at Writer’s Digest was focused on “understanding the problems of writers and giving them information and instruction to help them make educated career choices.” What has given you such a passion for helping authors? What drew you to the world of publishing and what led you from there to a focus on author development?

I wouldn’t necessarily call it a passion (that’s a term that can be overused and nebulous), but I have attained mastery in my field. That comes with some fulfillment as well as an ability to earn a living in a way that suits my personality, and makes a difference in people’s lives.

What motivates me or interests me in the field has shifted over time. When I first began my career, college friends at the time probably would’ve described me as a quiet bookworm who liked to surround myself with books. Fast forward fifteen years, and I gave away most of my print books (they were too much of a nuisance to move around), and started teaching myself HTML and web design, plus I was fascinated by social media expression and communication. Today, I’ve found myself stepping back from social media (for reasons that are probably obvious to anyone dealing with US politics in their feed) and focusing on long-term projects that are satisfying—the Great Courses series, the Authors Guild collaboration from last summer, a book with University of Chicago Press next year. 

I continue helping authors because I think I still have a unique and important message to share about balancing the art and business, and developing one’s career with eyes wide open as to the challenges and opportunities. 

In a few articles, you described the importance of writing output, that a huge part of successful marketing is having enough material to market. What do you consider realistic output goals for authors? 

I most often give this message in self-publishing contexts. That is: it’s very hard to be a successful self-published author with only one book to your name. More content means more flexibility and options for sales and marketing—for example, so one book can serve as a loss leader that’s sold for very cheap or even given away for periods of time.

But all authors benefit generally from producing more work, practicing and showing their work in public, even if that work isn’t quite finished. This is basically what Austin Kleon promotes in his book Show Your Work. If you work privately and off in a garret and never show your work until the moment you’re ready to publish, you’re losing out on feedback, engagement with readers, and relationships that come with being part of a community of other creators. In other words: in today’s publishing world, creating in a vacuum or in isolation can slow your progress—yet this isolation remains a romantic ideal in literary writing circles. That’s fine for periods, but to hold it up as the ideal isn’t giving sufficient credit to the benefits of actively sharing and communicating within a community that includes your readership.

What does this have to do with writing output? Well, it brings us full circle to the first question you asked about social media. If social media is a form of expression, then you’ve got a micro-publishing opportunity right there—a regular time and place to show something of your voice, perspective, or work. And that counts as one’s material, at least in my holistic view of an author’s career and effect on the world. There is no ballpark output I could possibly suggest, as writers are too individual to offer quantifiable goals. But it certainly helps if writers aren’t overly precious about each and every word and how and where those words appear in the world. Expand your idea of what it means to publish.

The MCWC Publish Bootcamp with Jane Friedman is offered as an add-on or stand-alone class on the Sunday after the main conference.  You can sign up here to be notified as soon as registration opens. And keep an eye on our blog for more introductions to the MCWC 2018 faculty!

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant

FACULTY SPOTLIGHT: ELIZABETH McKENZIE

If you were at the closing dinner of MCWC 2017, you would have heard the exciting announcement that in 2018, our Master Class instructor will be Elizabeth McKenzie.  Elizabeth’s latest novel, The Portable Veblen was long listed for the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction and won a 2017 California Book Award silver medal. An earlier novel, MacGregor Tells the World, was a Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and Library Journal Best Book of the Year.  Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and the Pushcart Prize Anthology among many other publications, and have been recorded for NPR’s Selected Shorts. Her debut collection, Stop That Girl, was short-listed for the Story Prize.

We sat down to speak to Elizabeth about her experiences as both an editor and writer of short and novel-length fiction.

You were an assistant fiction editor at The Atlantic, and you’re now senior editor at the Chicago Quarterly Review and managing editor at Catamaran Literary Reader. How has being an editor helped you as a writer?

This is such a good question, and important to me. Nothing’s been a better education for me as a writer than reading manuscripts by fellow writers over the years. Sure, it’s vital to read great literature and published work, which is the main kind of reading we do, but seeing work in its various stages pre-publication—manuscripts that are often quite good but missing something, that are only partly developed or go off course at the end—that’s invaluable because all of our work suffers from problems as it progresses, and you become comfortable with the process in all its stages. Rather than despising a story that’s not ready, you understand that it’s simply a little premature. It’s helped me identify problems in my own work, and it’s given me enough exposure to have a sense of what’s original. And what’s overused too—i.e., starting a story in a bar. Argh! There are too many stories that start in bars, I can assure you.

And then there’s the inverse: how being a writer has helped me as an editor. I want to make sure the work looks exactly the way the writer wants it and I really want the writer to be proud to see his or her work in the magazine. After publication, it’s important to make sure all the anthologies get a chance to see the work to consider it for inclusion and prizes. All these small steps along the way mean a lot.

In your interview in Publisher’s Weekly: Q&A with editor Ed Park,” it is apparent that you had a great working relationship with your editor. What advice do you have for writers on how to work with editors?

Well, Ed Park was a once in a lifetime editor—sadly for me, he’s now left Penguin Press. (But good for him, because he’s a terrific writer and can work on his novel now.) Anyway, his suggestions for my novel were excellent, and I’m sure I took them all. Sometimes an editor will give advice and the writer will explain why the advice doesn’t make sense, and then both parties will realize that there was a fundamental misunderstanding of the cause of the problem. Other times, it’s a matter of taste, and writer and editor are just not on the same page. The advice I’d give is that when you and your editor don’t agree on something, work through it and try to figure out if you’re really talking about the same thing.

In the same article, you said “And because I’d been working on this book so long, I knew it was hairy, like a rescued castaway who at last has the chance to shower and be shorn and pruned and have all the knots and burrs pulled out.” What a great description! How did you sustain your momentum on your manuscript over such a long period of time? How was it different, better or worse, than writing short fiction?

Also a great question. It was so hairy, in fact, that there was no way out. I was involved in a huge struggle, and the more time I spent on it the more desperate I became to make sure it counted. Not finishing it became out of the question for me, no matter how long it took. I guess I sustained myself by enjoying the small signs of success that would come along the way—a sentence or new idea that I was happy about. And my writing group helped too, because they were really encouraging. That kind of struggle occasionally happens with short stories too—I have a few around that I’ve been working on for years, and they’ve never quite shaped up. Then again, I’ve written and finished stories in a few days or weeks. Those were the lucky times.

In an interview for the UC Santa Cruz Newscenter, you discussed your love of beat poets and that you took some poetry classes at UCSC. In another interview with LA Review of Books you mentioned working on translations and how the work helps pull you out of your own writing habits. As both a writer and an editor, you seem to have a very wide range. How has this genre-jumping strengthened your writing?

Well, working on translations introduces you intimately to another writer’s techniques, and that’s always good. I also wrote a number of scripts with a partner years back and that was a great exercise for me—understanding three act structure, etc. And poetry laser-focuses a writer on words and the music of language. The more tools you have, the better.

You have produced acclaimed work in both short fiction and novel-length fiction. Do you prefer one form over the other? How are the challenges and skills required for both similar or different?

It’s hard to say, they both have their own rewards. But I probably feel best when I’m thrashing around inside a long piece. During that time, I have an alternate universe to play around in and go to. The alternate universe eventually gains a kind of gravity that makes me alive and awake to things around me in a new way, and I have a place to put those impressions. What is fun about short fiction is that you can have a strange idea and test it out without turning over your whole life to it.

You recently presented a fiction workshop at the Catamaran Conference that included both short and long form fiction. Do you focus your instruction on common craft between the two forms, or do you have specific advice for each? What do you plan to present as the Master Class workshop for MCWC 2018?

I’d say both. Talking about stories rubs off on talking about novels. There’s a lot of overlap, but lots to say specifically about each, too. I’d like to discuss any issues that rise out of the work we’ll be reading itself, as well as structure, voice, defamiliarization, how to revise imaginatively, and anything else anybody wants to bring up.


To take part in this intimate discussion of writing with Elizabeth McKenzie, submit for her Master Class at MCWC 2018. You can sign up here to be notified as soon as registration opens. And keep an eye out here for more introductions to MCWC 2018 faculty!

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant

what’s new with the newbies?

We caught up with a few MCWC 2017 first-time participants to see how they felt about their experience two months post-conference, when all the excitement had settled down. 

Dana Wagner, a MCWC 2017 scholar, had never been to a writing conference. “I had standard, imposter-syndrome concerns about whether I'd really fit in and be able to contribute well to the discussions, but everyone involved—organizers, instructors, and participants—was extremely welcoming and supportive. My main hope when I signed up for the conference was that I would enjoy, learn from, and be inspired by the community of authors at MCWC, and that certainly happened in spades,” he told us.  

 Dana Wagner

Dana Wagner

MCWC 2017 scholar and contest winner Chris Hall shared a similar story. “I had never been to a conference and I was going by myself. I wondered if people would be welcoming or if it would be awkward and isolating. I’m happy to say my anxieties were unfounded. From the first moment I arrived, I felt like I was part of a warmly welcomed community of writers.”

Cameron Lund, another writing conference first-timer, agreed that MCWC was a safe space to share. “It was so fun being surrounded by other writers and being able to talk about our craft. It’s not everywhere you can have a heated discussion about adverbs over lunch!”

Some of our first-timer participants were new to MCWC but not to writers’ conferences. Writers’ conference veteran Jennifer Siebert compared MCWC to other conferences she has experienced. “What I like about MCWC that is different from other conferences is it's not just a sit-and-listen-to-speakers conference. It’s interactive: you have the opportunity to work on your craft in a small focused group. It’s a good-sized conference, you aren’t lost in a sea of 1,000 people.” 

And some of our first-time participants were writing faculty elsewhere. “As a writing teacher and MFA grad, I appreciated the level of instruction and the insightful and honest feedback I received from instructors and attendees alike,” said Julie Sullivan who teaches at USF. “The sessions were challenging, but supportive. No souls were crushed in this workshopping process, at least not in my workshop!

 Chris Hall

Chris Hall

 Cameron Lund

Cameron Lund

 Julie Sullivan

Julie Sullivan

Two months later, our first-timers have found that their MCWC experience has changed their writing lives. Dana told us, “Since leaving, I’ve been setting aside more time each week to write, and I’ve joined a Bay Area writing group that I was introduced to through friends I made at MCWC.  None of this would have happened if I hadn’t attended, so I’m very glad I did.”

Cameron expressed similar excitement. “I left the conference feeling so inspired! When I got home, I immediately wrote two chapters of a new novel idea that came to me over the course of the weekend- and I got back to the editing grind on my existing novel. In fact, I ended up trading manuscripts with Jody Gehrman, who taught the Master Class, so once I got all of her notes back, it lit a fire under me to get my book as polished as possible!”

As a self-published author hoping to move into traditional publishing, Chris found success at MCWC as well. “I felt like I learned a lot about the process of getting an agent interested in your work and how to deliver a great pitch. And I even had a real-life literary agent express interest in reading my book!”

“Me too!” Julie chimed in. Julie first drafted her novel as part of her MFA a few years ago. At MCWC 2017, she finally was invited to submit pages by an agent. It was the step forward she had been waiting for.

Full notes from an accomplished (and busy) author like Jody Gehrman or interest from an agent are dreams that may not be immediately realized by many conference participants, but Jennifer was equally satisfied with her experience. “I left with direction on my manuscript. I also loved spending time with other writers. There was a feeling of community at MCWC. To describe it in one word: Tribe.”

 Jennifer Siebert and her tribe!

Jennifer Siebert and her tribe!

Because writing can be such a solitary occupation, investing in communities like MCWC is often crucial. “It can be hard to self-motivate and push yourself toward your goals—it can really help to have others to cheer on and to commiserate with,” Julie said. “At the start of the conference, Shirin Bridges, the Executive Director, welcomed the newcomers. And then to the returners she said, Welcome home. By the end of the conference, I fully understood that sentiment. There is something special about this conference. It’s not just welcoming, it’s like a hug you didn’t know you needed or didn’t know how to ask for.”

We look forward to welcoming you all home in 2018!

By Cameron Lund, MCWC Social Media Manager

and it’s a wrap!

We celebrated our 28th year this summer at MCWC 2017 and it could not have gone better! A big thank you to everyone involved: faculty, volunteers, donors, board members, and—of course—our enormously talented attendees. We were moved by the courage, creativity, and camaraderie shown by this community throughout the long weekend. Thank you for making MCWC such a safe and special place to be. 

 Members of the MCWC 2017 Novel-Writing Workshop, with instructor Michael David Lukas

Members of the MCWC 2017 Novel-Writing Workshop, with instructor Michael David Lukas

This year’s faculty came from both near and far to be with us—some especially far, like Jamaican-born poet Shara McCallum, who traveled from Pennsylvania State University (a more than twelve-hour journey door to door). “It was absolutely worth the time and distance I traveled to be there,” she tells us. “I loved the conference—my workshop especially, as well as all the people I met and spent time with in various ways, formal and informal—and the physical wonder of the place that is Mendocino. I was grateful to be part of this vibrant community for a time.”

 “The physical wonder of the place that is Mendocino…”

“The physical wonder of the place that is Mendocino…”

The other MCWC 2017 morning workshops were led by Jody Gehrman (Master Class), Michael David Lukas (Novel Writing), Kat Meads (Short Fiction), Lewis Buzbee (MG/YA), John Evans (Memoir), and Lisa Locascio (Emerging Writers). Says repeat attendee Terry Connolly, a Master Class participant, “The best part of the conference is always the morning workshops…The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. It’s a place where one feels safe to share.”

 Poetry workshop with Shara McCallum

Poetry workshop with Shara McCallum

 “…a place where one feels safe to share.”

“…a place where one feels safe to share.”

Our afternoon seminars saw the introduction of two new genres for MCWC: Flash Fiction with instructor Kara Vernor, and Screenwriting with film maker Alexandra Lexton. And every evening brought a social event including faculty readings and a closing dinner with keynote speaker, Michael Krasny— author, literature professor, and award-winning anchor of NPR’s Forum

 A new genre for MCWC and many of our participants

A new genre for MCWC and many of our participants

For some, the conference was a very direct path to success. The popular Pitch Panels—with agents April Eberhardt and Jessica Sinsheimer, and publisher Shirin Bridges—led to several attendees being asked to send pages, including scholarship winner Bronwynn Dean. “It was one of my goals for the conference,” Bronwynn says. “The encouragement I received from other attendees who heard [my pitch] also made me feel confident. If the first agent doesn’t bite, now I know at least I have a solid pitch to query others.”

 Pitch panel moderator Emily Lloyd-Jones and agents April Eberhardt and Jessica Sinsheimer

Pitch panel moderator Emily Lloyd-Jones and agents April Eberhardt and Jessica Sinsheimer

Says Jessica Sinsheimer, the agent who asked to see Bronwynn's pages, “Writers were given a very scary task: read a pitch, in front of everyone (including a panel of faculty) for feedback. One pitch stood out to me for its literary writing—the author had created a memoir in essays about modern farming, and had woven in plant-related words in the most beautiful, literary way. Her pitch—a format that can, without great care, sound sales-y, or forced—sounded like something Annie Dilliard might write. I found her afterwards to request her work, and will be sharing it with my office this week.”

On that positive note, let’s call it a wrap! We would like to thank all who were part of MCWC 2017, and to invite everyone to join us again for MCWC 2018. To see the rest of Mimi Carroll’s beautiful and atmospheric photos of the conference, please click here

 

 

 

 

By Cameron Lund, MCWC Social Media Manager

Faculty Spotlight- Michael David Lukas

With our summer 2017 conference right around the corner, and fully booked except for a few spots in poetry, we thought we’d share the insights of one of our amazing faculty members: Michael David Lukas. Michael has been a Fulbright Scholar in Turkey, a night-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv, and a fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont—and, as you can see above, an NEA fellow. Translated into more than a dozen languages, his first novel, The Oracle of Stamboul, was a finalist for the California Book Award, the NCIBA Book of the Year Award, and the Harold U. Ribalow Prize. His second novel, The Forty-Third Name of God, is forthcoming from Random House. A graduate of Brown University and the University of Maryland, he is a recipient of many scholarships and has taught creative writing to MFA students, undergrads, working adults, and middle schoolers.

Returning to teach at MCWC for the second time, Michael is thrilled to be back in the heart of our community. 

You’re teaching an afternoon workshop on good beginnings. As this is the beginning of our interview, we’ll start here! Do you have any quick advice on how to first grab your reader’s attention? 
Surprise them. Entice them. Lull them into complacency then throw ice water in their faces.

You’re also teaching a morning workshop on novel writing. What do you love about writing novels? Has long-form fiction always been your main focus, or do you write other forms?
I love novel writing because it’s such an immersive process, because it’s narrow and broad at the same time, because you get to create a world then live in it for three to ten years. What other pursuit affords us that kind of depth and escape?

In the past, I tried my hand at short stories and I’ve written the occasional personal essay. But for the most part, I’m a novel writer. That’s the medium I dream in.

Your novel, The Oracle of Stamboul, is historical fiction. What draws you to this genre? How did you go about your research?
I like writing about the past because it feels like another world. It gives me the space to stretch out and let my imagination run. When researching The Oracle of Stamboul, I did a lot of background reading about the social, political, and cultural history of the Ottoman Empire, but when it came time to write, I relied mostly on my imagination, my memories of Turkey, and an antique map of Istanbul.

Have you always been a writer? When did you first start writing? When did you want to make writing your career?
I’ve been writing almost every day for about fifteen years now. I’m not sure if I ever really had a conscious goal of becoming a writer or making it my career. It was more like a stubborn hope that I wouldn’t or couldn’t give up. And after a while, the practice of writing became an identity.

Do you have any advice for readers looking for agents?
For writers looking for agents, I have two pieces of advice. First, finish. Make sure your book is as good as it can be before sending it out, because you only get one chance to make that first impression. Second, look through the acknowledgements sections of books you love and use that to start compiling a list of agents to send your work to. That way, you are submitting to someone with a similar aesthetic as you. Plus you can tell them how much you enjoy their authors’ work.

Do you have a quick piece of general writing advice?
Write every day. Believe in what you are doing. Have a good sense of what you want to do, and do it.

You can find out more about Michael at his website, michaeldavidlukas.com.

by Cameron Lund, MCWC Social Media Manager

getting the most out of mcwc 2017

Play video for a glimpse of the MCWC experience.

We are proud—but also regretful—to announce that this year’s conference has already booked full.* For those of you who registered early, we cannot wait to welcome you to our little community of writers. To prepare you for what’s to come, here are some thoughts and tips from past attendees:

“I’ve always seen MCWC as a ‘safe haven,’ the first place where someone told me that if I wrote, I was a writer.  The conference provides a positive, nurturing environment for writers who are unsure of themselves and looking to improve their craft, and a meeting place for old friends to compare notes on their progress over the past year.” — Carole Stivers

“My favorite part is the feedback I get on my writing in the morning sessions. The faculty’s views are insightful, but it’s the participants considered thoughts coming from all angles that help make my writing better.” — Doug Fortier

“I appreciated the fact I could do and participate in as much as I wanted. I noticed writers who attended morning class and then picked over what was happening in the afternoon. They were gentle with themselves. For me, I packed in everything I could: full morning class with a consistent instructor on scene building, pitching my novel, two-plus classes each afternoon on everything from outlining to fast writing. I also scheduled a session with an agent, with trepidation.” — Earlene Gleisner

“My advice for newbies is to not hesitate, both for enrollment, but also for expressing what you want from the conference and for expressing your point of view in critiques of other participants’ writing. Don’t hang back—give something to get something.” — Doug Fortier

“Try to participate in as many sessions as you can.  Also, do your homework and try to get alone time with at least one agent or author, to talk about your work.  (I didn't do this last year, and I was sorry!)” — Carole Stivers

“Whether you ‘go for all of it’ or carefully pace your participation, your best bet is to read the schedule and biographies carefully. This is the best way to make a decision as to what you want to learn. And pack comfortable clothes which can be layered as the day can start cold and foggy and end up sunny. This is not a fashion show! Although a nice outfit for the final dinner can help you arrive in a celebratory mood.” — Earlene Gleisner

“Yes, bring warm clothes!  It can get cold at night!” — Carole Stivers

“For fun things in Mendocino, consider hanging out with other participants for evening meals. Patterson’s Pub on Lansing in Mendocino is a favorite of locals because it has the BEST food—but get there before six o’clock because it gets busy.” — Doug Fortier 

“For hikers, there’s Mendocino Headlands State Park, the Point Cabrillo Light Station, Russian Gulch State Park, the Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg… On the way in, visit Hendy Woods State Park—virgin redwoods as good as Muir Woods, but with no crowds!” — Carole Stivers

“MCWC has it all—great presenters, friendly helpful volunteers, free wine receptions, great location. I’ve attended many conferences, and there’s none like MCWC for the friendliness and helpfulness of the volunteers, from the servers in the kitchen to the staff in the bookstore.” — Anne Da Vigo 

“The Board of this event work hard to provide a welcoming atmosphere with an undercurrent of enthusiasm for our craft.” — Earlene Gleisner

“My tip, as a past attendee before I became Director? Come as a sponge. Absorb it all—the insights, the passion, the camaraderie. It’s pretty heady.” — Shirin Bridges

 

*To be added to the waitlist for MCWC 2017, in case seats become available due to cancellations, please contact our registrar, Barbara Lee, at info@mcwc.org or 707-485-4031

by Cameron Lund, MCWC Social Media Manager

Faculty spotlight: Lisa Locascio

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I had the pleasure of sitting down recently with Lisa Locascio, who is returning to MCWC 2017 as the Emerging Writers workshop instructor. Lisa is a creative force to be reckoned with. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature, an MA in English Literature from USC, as well as an MFA and BA from NYU. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has won the 2011 John Steinbeck Award for Fiction, the 2014 Robbins Memorial Emerging Writer Award, and a 2014 Dorys Grover Award. She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Wesleyan University and working as an editor and publisher—in fact, she has just completed the curation of an anthology, Golden State 2017, featuring two other MCWC 2017 faculty members, Kat Meads and Kara Vernor—and her novel, Jutland Gothic, will be published by Grove Atlantic in 2018. Suffice it to say, Lisa has a lot on her plate, and we’re thrilled that she has made time for this summer’s conference, and for this interview. 

What is your favorite genre to write in? Has it always been your favorite or has that changed over time?
I’ve always liked to tell stories, and I’ve been telling them through fiction and poetry for as long as I can remember. Writing creative nonfiction came to me a bit later, as a result of the training in critical writing and slam poetry I received in high school. While those two modalities might seem contradictory, they have similar missions of elucidating and exploring that which is seen and known, and writing in those ways helped me understand and portray my experiences as vividly as those I wholly invented. 

Over time, the lines between the genres have blurred for me, and today I produce a significant amount of writing that is all of the above—at the same time poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Rather than a shift of interests over time, I consider this movement in my work the result of sharpening my knife and diving deeper and more fearlessly into the sea of consciousness where David Lynch suggests we seek to "catch the big fish" of ideas. This is the creative actualization I wish for every writer, and which I endeavor to help my students achieve.

How did you first get published? How did you get an agent? Do you have any advice for newbies?
I think the first time I was published in a journal that wasn’t affiliated with my school or creative circle in any way was towards the end of college, when a story of mine showed up in Prairie Margins, the undergraduate literary magazine of Bowling Green State University. Another big moment for me was when my story "Mallinckrodt" was published in the late great Northwest Review in 2008, when I was in the first year of my MFA. 

As for my agent, Marya Spence, I was very lucky that she found me, in fact through my work as an editor. She read a story I had edited for Joyland, the fiction magazine of which I am co-publisher, and through that connection found my website and read a great deal of my work. I feel blessed to work with such a whip-smart, wise, and devoted creative ally, especially since she reached out to me after six frustrating years of trying to find an agent. 

As for advice on being published and becoming agented, I’ll paraphrase the great Isaac Babel story "You Must Know Everything" and tell you that you must do everything: submit everywhere, be relentless and bulletproof to rejection, which you will receive in droves from magazines and agents alike. Try everything, keep going, and remember that publishing is a numbers game—the more places read your work, the more likely it is that one will want to publish you. Finding an agent is the search for a highly personal relationship, a lot like matchmaking, and just as finicky and magic-reliant; if you pay attention to who reps the writers you admire, send only your most polished and highest-quality work, and respect the difficulty of their job, you position yourself well to find good representation. 

Can you tell me a bit about the workshop youll be teaching at MCWC 2017?
The Emerging Writers workshop is designed for those whose creative identities are still coalescing, writers who seek to establish an understanding of themselves and their literary style, people from across the spectrum of age and life experience who wish to engage deeply with the self and the world to produce beautiful and meaningful work. It will be a supportive environment with great mutual respect between students and teacher and a deep and sacred sense of the honor of working together to help each other’s writing become the best and most realized version of itself. I’m so excited to teach this class!

Do you have any advice for someone who may be nervous about taking your class?
My job as a teacher is to create a space where the vital dream-work of workshop can occur, where things can get a little messy and weird, where ideas can bloom and be nurtured and undergo delicate, exquisite surgery to become more themselves. It’s good to be nervous if that nervousness is a sign of excitement at the immensity of the task ahead, but don’t be afraid! We will emerge as friends and better writers for having shared each other’s company. The best advice I can give is to be yourself, honest and open; if you show up with sincerity, respect, and curiosity, you will have a phenomenal experience.

What do you have to say to emerging writers in particular?
Be kind to yourself. Writing is an enormously complex ancient technology developed to address the problem of limited human memory, and yet we act like it should be as natural as breathing. Well, breathing is actually really complicated too, we just have a lot of practice at it. Practice is what writers need as well: practice writing, but also practice noticing and thinking and feeling, and practice incorporating each of these acts and their multifarious allies into a writerly way of being that is as idiosyncratic as each writer. Be gentle. Feel good. Keep going. 

Can they draw hope from your own trajectory?
I first came to the conference as a scholarship student, in 2012, when I took Steve Almond's Short Fiction workshop and won the short fiction prize, a huge honor. Then I was invited to return as faculty in 2015, an even huger honor! I had such a delightful time teaching that year's Short Fiction workshop; I met many people who became quite important to me, and it's no overstatement to say it was a life-changing experience. I was itching to come back and so happy when my invitation arrived to teach in 2017. 


To register for Lisa's Emerging Writers workshop, please visit mcwc.org. Attendance is limited to 14 on a first-come, first-served basis. The class is open to writers of all genres. 

If you have never attended our conference before, you may also submit an application for a First Taste of MCWC scholarship.

**SUBMISSION DEADLINE IS MAY 15, 2017.** 

You can find out more about Lisa at her website: www.lisalocascio.com

 

 

 

by Cameron Lund, MCWC Social Media Manager

faculty spotlight: Jody Gehrman

Author Jody Gehrman has been associated with the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference for more than ten years, both as a returning member of faculty and as an invaluable member of the advisory board. This summer, we’re thrilled to have Jody back to teach the MCWC 2017 Master Class. Jody is truly versatile. The author of ten novels and numerous plays for stage and screen, she’s also a professor of English and Communications at Mendocino College. Her young-adult novel, Babe in Boyland, won the International Reading Association’s Teen Choice Award and was optioned by the Disney Channel; her first psychological suspense novel, Watch Me, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2018. In exciting recent news, her full-length play, Tribal Life in America, won the Ebell Playwright Grand Prize, a prestigious playwriting award. 

 Jody with Ebell Club organizer Cynthia Comsky in Los Angeles this March for the reading of  Tribal Life in America , winner of the Ebell Playwright Grand Prize.

Jody with Ebell Club organizer Cynthia Comsky in Los Angeles this March for the reading of Tribal Life in America, winner of the Ebell Playwright Grand Prize.

I sat down with Jody to find out more about the class she'll be offering at MCWC 2017, and to discuss her writing process, getting published, and how she finds motivation. 


So you’ve published 10 novels. Can you tell us a little about that process? Were you traditionally published or did you self-publish?
Eight have been traditionally published and two were self published. When I’m talking to writers, I don’t recommend one over the other until I find out their personal goals, because they both have their strengths and their drawbacks. I like traditional better because I love having a professional marketing team and professional editors. I love the collaborative process. But it takes so long that way. Self publishing gives you a lot of creative control, like designing your own covers, and it’s usually much more immediate. 

How did you first get published? Did you have an agent?
I first got my agent when I was in grad school. I went to the University of Southern California, and I picked that school on purpose because I knew that the professors were all working writers. All of my professors there were published, but there was one I really wanted to impress. So I tried my best, always handed in my best work, and she said ‘I like what you’re doing. I want to introduce you to my agent.’ And we went from there. I’m now on my third agent, actually. I don’t write the same kind of book over and over. I started in "chick lit," then moved to YA with a romance vibe, and now I’m working on a suspense novel, so I wanted to find an agent with a good track record for that. 

Do you write under a pseudonym for when you changed genres?
My agent and I talked about a name change, but it seemed more harmful to start from scratch and we think my genres are closely enough aligned that it won’t matter. I always joke, ‘Thank God I haven’t had a runaway best seller,’ because then publishers would expect me to write the same book over and over again with a different title. Right now I have more freedom. 

Is there anything you would have done differently with your first novel?
Not necessarily something I would have done differently, but there is something that surprised me when I went from being a student to a working writer. I didn’t realize just how much a publisher will push you towards the most marketable angle no matter what that is. My first novel, Summer in theLand of Skin, was the farthest thing from a romance in my mind, but it went to auction and the highest bidder was Harlequin, and so suddenly I was a romance writer. This is confusing to a lot of writers, because in school we’re pushed away from genre fiction; everyone wants to write literary fiction. But in the commercial world we’re pushed really hard towards whatever sells. I wish that someone had told me more about that. I felt a little blindsided by it. But young writers do have a better sense now of branding. If it’s important to you how you’re perceived and how you’re marketed, think about that and be an active participant in the way your career is packaged. 

You also write plays. How is the playwriting process different from the novel writing process? Playwriting is therapeutic for me because it connects me to my audience in a more direct way than fiction ever can. There’s nothing like sitting in an audience and feeling their reaction to what’s happening on stage. With a novel, you’re basically launching a message in a bottle and sending it out to sea, and you know there are people reading it, but aside from reviews, you don’t have much connection to their experience. It’s abstract and kind of unsettling. So whenever I start to feel that distance, I want to connect with my community and work with directors and actors and have that feeling of collaboration. For me it’s about the collaboration and the insights I get when I sit in an audience that’s responding in the moment to a live performance. 

Has an actor or director ever interpreted your writing differently than you intended?
I love that! Sometimes an actor will interpret a line of dialogue in a way I’d never thought of, and it’s much better. That’s the joy of collaboration. It’s the X factor that other people bring. When your creative process is linked to theirs, it’s so much richer and more complex. A part of me really enjoys being surprised by what other people bring to my work. 

How do you find the time to write? 
I’m a really big fan of writing a draft as quickly as possible. I’m always busy, so I have to be a binge writer when I can. On summer and winter breaks from school, I get a lot done. Sometimes I’ll sit down and write for eight hours at a time, but even during the school year, I try to keep a fairly regular practice. It’s important to dedicate a certain amount of time, space, and energy every day to your writing. 

I have a group of girlfriends that I met at a conference and every winter and summer we get together to write in Carmel, and I don’t let myself focus on anything besides the writing. That’s always when I’m the most productive!

Writing retreats and conferences are so good for getting motivated! Do you have any advice on how to get the most out of a conference?
Before you go, you should ask yourself what you want to get out of it. Some people don’t expect to get any writing done— they want to get inspired and hear speakers, which is completely valid. Other people want quiet time to write. If you want to get writing time done, carve that out and guard it zealously. Don’t go to every event. You have to make time for yourself. But if networking is important to you, make time for those casual conversations. But don’t be too aggressive! My agent told me a story about how when she was at a conference, she was on the treadmill and three different people came up to her to pitch. You don’t want to turn them off and be too needy. Just wait for the natural moment!

How about a general piece of writing advice?
This is kind of a cliche, but I love that phrase ‘the writer’s strongest tool is the door.’ You need to have the willingness to close it and do your work. I know some writers that are so deeply social that they never find the time to get the kind of isolation that real creativity requires. On the other hand, it’s important to balance that out and connect with other writers and people that stimulate our imagination. Pay attention to who you’re surrounding yourself with and how they affect your work; whether you feel supported and inspired by people you’re working with or whether you’re feeling dragged down and distracted.

Can you tell us a little about the Master Class? And do you have any advice for those applying?
The class will be divvied up between mini lectures on the bones of storytelling, exercises to help students experiment, and critiques and feedback on everyone’s works in progress. As far as submissions go, I would say to just give yourself some time to really polish. Just like with any writing sample, you don't want to dash it off at the last second. Give it that distance and make sure it's the best sample of your work. Writing samples work best if they stand alone, even if they're part of something bigger. Usually the first section works best because you're already helping the reader get oriented. 

I’m excited to be coming back to the MCWC and especially to be teaching the Master Class. I just want people to recognize what a gem this conference is. It’s small and focused, but at the same time, it’s not claustrophobic. There’s such a wide range of types of writers. It’s one of the least pretentious, friendliest, and most inspiring conferences I’ve had the pleasure to work with.

You will find submission guidelines for Jody's Master Class on registration. To register, please visit mcwc.org. Attendance is limited to 12 and juried in, with final selections made by Jody. The class is open to writers of all genres: fiction, memoir, playwriting, screenwriting, etc. 

You can find out more about Jody Gehrman at her website: http://www.jodygehrman.com


MCWC 2017 registration opens—with many generous scholarships

registration IS now open!

Registration is now open for the 2017 Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference, so we hope you’ve been thinking about which workshop you’d like to enroll in. All workshops are filled on a first-come, first-served, basis. With participation capped at fourteen, we are expecting the workshops to be fully subscribed. The only exception to the limit of fourteen is the Master Class, which is juried in and capped at twelve participants. Full details about registration procedures and fees are available by clicking on the REGISTER button displayed prominently on every page at mcwc.org.

This year, we’re very proud to offer a broad range of scholarships, many available for the first time (see list below). It is especially important to us to bring together voices from diverse backgrounds, so we are thrilled to announce our new Diverse Voices scholarships aimed at celebrating diversity in our conference community. New First Taste scholarships will encourage new participants of the highest caliber, and you’ll find scholarships rewarding the best writing in various genres. We thank our generous donors for funding these scholarships and making MCWC accessible to a broader range of participants, and we encourage everyone who qualifies to apply. Please keep in mind that you may only apply for one scholarship per year, and that past scholars must wait three years before applying again.

We also encourage all conference registrants to submit to our writing contest. Winners will be awarded cash prizes and the opportunity to read publicly, and their winning work will be considered for publication in our annual literary magazine, the Noyo River Review. 

So, register now and mark your calendars. MCWC 2017 will take place August 3rd-5th, with our stand-alone, full-day publishing bootcamp on August 6th. You’ll find descriptions of this year’s workshops and events, and the biographies of our wonderful faculty at mcwc.org

We hope to see you this summer—and we wish the best of luck to all scholarship applicants!


MCWC 2017 Scholarships

Barry Brian Murphy Memorial Scholarship

In memory of Barry Brian Murphy, beloved father and man of mischeief and humor: one full scholarship of $575, awarded to humorous writing in any genre, be it novel, memoir, short story, poetry

Byerley Memorial Scholarships
In memory of Suzanne Byerley, former co-director of MCWC: two partial scholarships of $250 each, based solely on merit. 

Bradish Memorial Scholarship
In memory of Mary Bradish O’Connor, poet and one of the founders of the Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County: one partial scholarship of $275, awarded to a female writer. 

5-Under-25 Scholarships
To support and encourage the next generation of writers: five full scholarships of $575 each, awarded to writers who are between 16 and 25 years of age on the first day of the conference. 

Judy and Bob Mathey Scholarship
A full scholarships of $575 awarded to a writer less than 30 years of age on the first day of the conference.

Voices of Diversity Scholarships
To encourage voices from underrepresented groups on the basis of ethnicity, sexual identity, disability, social or cultural background, and financial need: two full scholarships of $575 each. 

Marion Deeds Scholarship
A full scholarship of $575 awarded to a woman of color working in any genre

Francis Andrews/Soroptimists Scholarship
A full scholarship of $575 awarded to a woman of diverse background working in any genre. 

Susan & Mel McKinney Scholarship
A full scholarship of $575 awarded on merit to a writer working on a novel.

Ginny Rorby Scholarship
A full scholarship of $575 awarded on merit to a writer working in the genres of middle grade fiction, young adult fiction, or nonfiction.

Norma Watkins Scholarship
A full scholarship of $575 awarded on merit to a writer working in memoir. 

Doug Fortier Scholarship
A full scholarship of $575 awarded on merit to a writer of short fiction.

First Taste of MCWC Scholarships
Two half scholarships of $288 each, awarded to first-time attendees of the conference. 

Gene & Susan Lock Scholarship
In honor of Gene and Susan Lock, a partial scholarship of $300, awarded to a writer at least 60 years of age. 

High School Student Writers Scholarships
To encourage writers in their first bud: two full scholarships of $575 each, awarded to writers in grades 9-12 at any high school or alternative high school program, including home school and independent study in Mendocino County.