Celebrating 30 Years of MCWC

by Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

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MCWC 2019 registration closed with record numbers, making this year’s conference our largest yet! We are thrilled so many people will be joining us for our 30th year.

Of course, thirty years of MCWC would not be possible without the support of our returning participants, our generous donors, and our dedicated board. We spoke with a few of our board members this month to learn more about the history of MCWC and celebrate its future.

MCWC started in 1989 when Marlis Boardhead, a creative writing teacher at College of the Redwoods, decided to bring a few published authors to speak at the college. By the time MCWC President Ginny Rorby started volunteering in 1996, the event had blossomed into a full weekend conference. After Marlis moved out of state in 1997, Ginny and her friend Suzanne Byerley led the conference, with the support of College of the Redwoods Dean, Dr. Leslie Lawson.

In 2004, Ginny and Suzanne turned the directorship of conference over to Charlotte Gullick (who is returning this year as faculty for the MCWC 2019 Emerging Writers’ workshop). When Charlotte left for a full-time teaching job in Texas, leadership passed to Maureen Eppstein and Katherine Brown. The conference then separated from College of the Redwoods and become an independent non-profit. Maureen continued as the Executive Director for a number of years, followed by Karen Lewis for two years, and then Shirin Bridges for two years. Shirin passed the torch to our current director, Lisa Locascio, after the MCWC 2018 conference.

Past ED Shirin Bridges and Board Member Amie McGee manning the registration desk at MCWC 2017

Past ED Shirin Bridges and Board Member Amie McGee manning the registration desk at MCWC 2017

MCWC has survived the changing tides of thirty years thanks to the dedication of its all-volunteer board. “We have a 12 member committee,” Ginny explained, “some of whom have been a part of this conference since 1998. MCWC would have been a failed endeavor without those committee members. Three have passed away, and, tragically, Suzanne was killed in a car accident in 2014.”

MCWC Secretary Norma Watkins has been an integral part of MCWC’s development since she started working with Ginny and Suzanne in 1997. Norma remembered one year in particular, when the board decided to throw a Thai-themed closing dinner, including special decorations and catering. The board even served the dinner themselves, a testament to their dedication. “The exhausted board voted it the greatest closing dinner ever and swore never to do it again,” Norma said. The board does still maintain the long-standing tradition of cooking for and serving at the Thursday Welcome Mixer.

Susan Bono welcoming everyone to the MCWC 2018 Friday Reading

Susan Bono welcoming everyone to the MCWC 2018 Friday Reading

The years of hard work have been more than worth it for Susan Bono, another long-serving board member and the editor of MCWC’s literary magazine, the Noyo River Review. “MCWC has been essential to my life as a writer and small press publisher,” she said. “From the beginning, which for me was more than twenty years ago, I was welcomed, respected, and taken seriously. The encouragement I found helped shape my identity and build community. I’m not the only one. In my time with MCWC, I’ve seen many new writers take root and blossom. Like me, they return again and again.”

Nona Smith has served eight years on the board, spending three of them as president. She said the highlights of her time at MCWC have been watching participants grow as writers over the years. She shared a fond memory of one of MCWC 2018’s participants: “The story he brought to his workshop was a unique one for him to write. It was about his experiences during the Vietnam War, something he’d never written about before. He was so enthused by the reception his work received in his morning workshop, that he read it in an afternoon open mic session. Noyo River Review editor Susan Bono attended that session and encouraged the participant to submit the story for publication in the Review…which now makes him a published author.”

One of our newer board members, Kara Vernor, started first as a participant at MCWC. “I had been feeling somewhat isolated as a writer before attending my first MCWC conference, where I ended up making  lasting connections both years I was a participant,” she said. Kara taught at MCWC 2017 and was then invited to join the board by past director Shirin Bridges. “I jumped at the chance to contribute,” Kara said. “The conference is a rare blend of friendly, affordable, and effective—our faculty is consistently excellent. MCWC continues to be a rich and incredibly generative community.”

Norma Watkins helping at the MCWC 2017 Thursday Mixer

Norma Watkins helping at the MCWC 2017 Thursday Mixer

Looking forward, Norma hopes MCWC can continue to become more accessible to a wider range of participants. “We live in a remote and beautiful place. It’s difficult to get here and expensive to stay. It’s an ongoing challenge for the conference—how to spread the word about the unique beauty of the place and, at the same time, provide affordable options for the diverse and younger writers we hope to attract.”

This year, MCWC has made strides towards becoming more accessible by offering seventeen scholarships, all of which were funded through donations. We are so grateful for the wonderful arts community of the Mendocino Coast, including the hosts, donors, volunteers and local participants who have supported this conference for thirty years.

We hope to share MCWC with the community through our list of public events this year, including a Paths to Publishing panel on Thursday and Open Mics on Friday and Saturday (all of which start at 1pm at the Mendocino K-8 School). We also have two faculty readings: one on Thursday evening at St Anthony’s Hall and one on Friday at Cotton Auditorium, both beginning at 6:30pm. For full details about events open to the public, please visit mcwc.org/afternoon-events.


For full list of conference schedule, including location addresses, please visit mcwc.org/location-and-schedule.

For tips and advice on preparing for MCWC, including what to bring and how to make the most of the conference offerings, click here to visit last year’s July blog post.


Ismail Muhammad Explores Culture and Literature in Nonfiction

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

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As a Ph.D. candidate in the English department at U.C. Berkeley, MCWC 2019 nonfiction instructor Ismail Muhammad combines his mastery of academic writing with personal narrative in his criticism, essays, and book reviews. By blurring the lines of genre, Ismail explores the intersections between literature, art, identity and culture. His work has appeared in Slate, New Republic, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Catapult, and more. He’s the reviews editor for The Believer, a staff writer at the Millions, a contributing editor at ZYZZYVA, and a board member at the National Books Critics Circle.

Ismail is currently working on a novel about the Great Migration and queer archives of black history. He shared with us about how nonfiction and fiction work together in his creative process, as well as tips for honing our writing skills. To continue learning from Ismail, you can sign up for one of the last few open spots in his nonfiction workshop at MCWC 2019 at mcwc.org.

How does writing nonfiction provide you with opportunities to explore the natural connections between topics like race, pop culture, politics and literary critique? Do you have a writing process for structuring those intersections?

The nonfiction writers who influenced me most in high school and college were Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin; they’re writers who just assume the connections between literary critique, pop culture, race, politics, and personal narrative. I admired how their essays careened between a diverse set of topics, from jazz, to 19th century American literature, to 20th century film, to black humor, often within the same essay. Reading them was an early education in criticism, so I suppose I never really learned about criticism as anything other than a practice that helps us articulate the connections between disparate cultural fields, even genres. The flexibility of the critical essay form allows me to inhabit whatever genres or modes I need to in order to approach a certain topic productively.

My process for structuring intersections between these fields mostly involves a lot of false starts, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of revision. I often find myself writing drafts of essays that I think of as being separate, but actually turn out to explore overlapping ideas. I set aside most of what I write, only to return to it in a later context, when a new perspective allows me to see something I couldn’t perceive before. I just have to give myself the time and space to write, mess up, cover a lot of ground, and see what happens when I’m done. It’s all somewhat haphazard and improvisatory. The most important thing is to write every day, to the extent that that’s possible. I try to write at least 300 words a day, just to see what comes out.

How did you get into writing book reviews, criticism, and interviews? Has writing nonfiction helped you grow as a fiction writer as well?

I came to book criticism through my studies as a graduate student in the English Ph.D. program at Cal Berkeley. By the time I was writing my dissertation, I found myself feeling dissatisfied with academic writing: I enjoyed the process of criticism that the program had taught me, but felt constrained by the formal demands of academic writing. Writing public facing criticism became a way to work through the ideas I was studying, without the formal burdens of the dissertation. I feel like public criticism has been a way of teaching myself how to think and write in a way that clarifies my literary critical chops, even if I never actually return to academic writing as a profession.

Nonfiction writing has definitely helped me grow as a fiction writer. Writing my criticism—which often interweaves elements of personal nonfiction and literary critical analysis—has helped me refine skills like scene craft, or narrative structure. I never studied creative writing in an academic setting, so nonfiction has been a kind of school for me, a space where I can experiment with and sharpen my skills.

In this interview with Literary Hub, you describe being a critic as “much more about learning—from the authors I’m reading, conversations I have with other critics, and other readers’ observations—than knowing.” This reminded me of the age-old writing advice that reading is the best way to learn how to write. What advice to you have for writers who want to read and write with the intention of learning?

The best advice I can give is read as broadly possible, even if you don’t “like” a certain kind of literature, don’t see yourself reflected in it, or find yourself disturbed, unsettled, or offended. I went to a college where education was conflated with reading deeply in the canon of Western literature and political thought. That rubbed me the wrong way, considering my background. I reluctantly read a lot of stuff that I would never have found myself reading in any other circumstance: Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, St. Augustine’s City of God, Machiavelli’s Discourses, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Austen’s Emma, Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts, E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, on and on. On the surface, these books had nothing to say to me; but I always found myself shocked at how they resonated with me on frequencies I didn’t know I had access to, and how they taught me elements of craft and inquiry I never would have learned otherwise.

There’s a theme through some of your writing about the presence and accessibility of culture and politics in today’s world through the internet and social media. How do you think writers play a role in adding to the conversation productively, and what might be practical steps writers can take to avoid media burn-out?

In a time where critics are expected to have an opinion ready within a day, if not an hour, of a cultural object’s appearance, a writer productively contributes to the conversation by speaking less and thinking more. It feels important that we all take a step back, observe, think, and then speak, instead of obeying the Internet’s dictate that we broadcast our first impressions to the world as soon as we have them. Good criticism feels dependent upon durational attention and considered speech. You’ve got to read something, meditate on it, maybe even read it again—and then speak.

I’m not sure that my strategies for avoiding burn-out will work for everyone, since I’m just not very into Twitter, Instagram, etc. But I engage with social media very little. I like to see what people are talking about, if there’s anything cool to learn out there. I like to see what people are excited about, what people are reading and watching and listening to. Otherwise, I stay off social media. I spend most of my time listening to music, reading, watching movies, following sports. I talk to my friends. I just like paying attention to what I think and feel, and what my friends are thinking and feeling.

You’ll be teaching the nonfiction workshop at MCWC and intend to focus on hybrid forms of nonfiction. What can participants expect from your workshop and what do you hope will be their biggest take-away?

I want the workshop participants to consider ways that the personal essay can be less a revelation of the self, and more a series of aesthetic explorations that refract society and culture through the self. I think that happens best when we allow the narrative personal essay to slide into genres that we normally think of as diametrically opposed to the personal, like cultural criticism and academic inquiry. Our chief question will be, How can we tell our stories through attention to cultural objects? Participants can expect to read and discuss excerpts from authors like Saidiya Hartman, Imani Perry, James Baldwin, Brian Blanchfield and Theresa Cha, and to do exercises that encourage them to investigate their relationship to cultural objects.


To learn more about Ismail, visit www.ismail-muhammad.com.

Registration for MCWC 2019 closes on June 30th. There are just a handful of open seats left, so don’t wait to register!

Empowering Young Readers with Mitali Perkins

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

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MCWC 2019 Middle Grade/Young Adult faculty Mitali Perkins believes stories have the power to create safe spaces for young readers. Born in Kolkata, India, Mitali lived in Ghana, Cameroon, London, New York and Mexico before her family settled in California when she was eleven. Inspired by her own experiences, her novels feature characters trying to cross borders, bridge differences, and find community.

Mitali’s novel You Bring the Distant Near was nominated for a National Book Award and a Walter Award honor book. Rickshaw Girl was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the top 100 books for children in the past century. Bamboo People was an American Library Association Top Ten Novel for Young Adults, and Tiger Boy won the Charlotte Huck Honor Award and the South Asia Book Award. She has been honored as a “Most Engaging Author” by independent booksellers across the country and selected as a “Literary Light for Children” by the Associates of the Boston Public Library.

Mitali shared with us about her decision to be “all in” as a writer, her passion for reaching the hearts and minds of young readers, and her plans for the MCWC 2019 MG/YA workshop.

Congratulations on the recent publication of your twelfth book, Forward Me Back to You! As you add another book to your long list of award-winning publications, how do you feel looking back over your career?

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I’m surprised that I’m still doing this and making a living at it. Though I haven’t written bestsellers, my books have been mid-list steady sellers, mostly thanks to the school and library markets. I just earned out an advance from a book published ten years ago, for example! After twelve books, all still in print and being read by young people here and in other countries, the long game begins to pay off. My agent—Laura Rennert of Andrea Brown Literary Agency—has represented me with devotion and excitement for more than fifteen years. She and my publishers and editors believe in me and my contribution to the literary landscape. My booking agent, Sarah Azibo, lines up gigs to cover the speaking portion of my income. All in all, I’m still standing, still writing, still trying to serve and empower my young readers with stories. That feels like more than a surprise—it’s a miracle.

You have another book coming out this September, Between Us and Abuela, which will be your first picture book. Though this is a new format for you, it follows your theme of “writing between cultures,” as you’ve described your work. How have your own experiences influenced your passion for writing between cultures?

All of my stories explore the tension, joy, gains, and losses of crossing borders. I’ve done that my whole life. Whether it’s the space between those with money and power and those with less (as in Forward Me Back to You), the space between cultures (as in Between Us and Abuela), or the gap between South Asia’s girl children and their male counterparts (Rickshaw Girl and Secret Keeper), my stories always take place along borders.

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You’ve written both Middle Grade and Young Adult novels. What advice would you give to a writer trying to figure out if their story best fits MG or YA?

Which do you like to read? I enjoy them equally, along with picture books, so I write all three. Pay attention to your preference as a reader and that will illuminate your writing voice. We can also discuss this during the workshop, when I can provide one-on-one attention to your writing.

You studied political science at Stanford and public policy at UC Berkeley, and then taught middle school, high school, and college before transitioning into writing fiction. What inspired you to start writing?

I always wrote, scribbling poetry and stories as early as eight or nine, so the joy of words and story craft has been and will be a lifelong way for me to play. I didn’t start pursuing a full time career as an “author” until my second novel, Monsoon Summer, was rejected by twenty-two publishers over eleven years. When it was finally published, I decided that if I couldn’t be thwarted by all that opposition, it was time to be “all in.”

Can you give us a taste of what you’ll bring to the MG/YA workshop at MCWC 2019? What can participants expect and what do you hope will be their biggest take away?

I love teaching. My mentees in the past who have gone on to be published are teachable and focused on improving their craft. You’ll learn how to make your dialogue zing, take us to a setting with all five of our senses, and find fixable flaws in story structure. I will openly share much of what I have learned and hope you will join me to make your stories sizzle. I want them to reach the hearts and minds of young readers and I’ll do my best to help you get them there.


To learn more about Mitali and her books, visit www.mitaliperkins.com.

You can still register for Mitali’s MG/YA workshop at MCWC 2019. But don’t wait, because there are only a couple seats left!

Congratulations to the MCWC 2019 Scholarship Winners

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

We are thrilled to welcome this year’s scholarship winners to MCWC! The following writers were selected out of a highly competitive field of almost eighty applicants. We asked them to tell us a little about their current project and/or what they hope to get out of their conference experience.

Scholarships strengthen the MCWC community by bringing in talented individuals who may not be able to attend otherwise. These opportunities would not be possible without the support of our generous donors. We cannot thank them enough!

BYERLEY MEMORIAL NOVEL SCHOLARSHIP

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Darrel Alejandro Holnes is a poet, playwright, writer, and researcher from Panama City, Panama, and the former Panama Canal Zone. He is the recipient of a 2019 National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry and fellowships or scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Cave Canem, CantoMundo, and others. His poetry has been awarded the C.P. Cavafy Prize from Poetry International and was a finalist for the National Poetry Series, BOAAT Poetry Prize, Cave Canem Poetry Prize, Pushcart Prize in Poetry, and others. His poetry has been published in American Poetry Review, Poetry Magazine, Callaloo, Best American Experimental Writing, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere in print and online. 

Darrel writes: “I am writing a novel based in Panama City, Panama across several decades. I really enjoyed reading Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s book Fruit of the Drunken Tree and look forward to working with her on excerpts of my novel. “

DOUG FORTIER SHORT FICTION SCHOLARSHIP

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Gail Ansel completed her first novel, JENN & POLLY, in the Stanford Novel Writing Certificate Program. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Whirlwind Magazine and the Noyo River Review. She is at work on her second novel about the life-long consequences of losing custody of a child to adoption.

Gail writes: “I so loved the warmth and support I found at MCWC my first time in 2018, I invited ten of my friends for 2019. I’m workshopping my second novel, Suzanne, Finally with Ingrid Rojas Contreras, using the July deadline to kick some serious third draft magic. I write about women’s choice, voice and agency.”

GINNY RORBY MG/YA SCHOLARSHIP

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Lisa Manterfield is the award-winning author of Adult and Young Adult fiction. Her work has appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Los Angeles Times, and Psychology Today. Originally from northern England, she now lives in Santa Rosa, California with her husband and over-indulged cat.

Lisa writes: “My current project is a psychological suspense about a teen searching for answers about her twin sister’s murder. I’m doing final revisions on this project right now, so I’m looking forward to working on something new at the conference. I have a few ideas bubbling away, and I’m anxious to see which one catches fire.”

NORMA WATKINS MEMOIR SCHOLARSHIP

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Leah Parman lives in San Francisco with her teenage daughters. She is many things, and is still becoming. In her stolen time, she is working on a piece about identity, denial, power, shame, courage, sexual dynamics, forgiveness, and transformation in the context of domestic abuse.

Leah writes: “I can’t wait to escape to the Mendocino coast to connect with other writers and nurture the writer in myself.”

MCWC POETRY SCHOLARSHIP

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Valerie Wallace is the author of House of McQueen, selected by Vievee Francis for the Four Way Books Intro Prize (Spring 2018), and the chapbook The Dictators’ Guide to Good Housekeeping. Margaret Atwood chose 10 of her poems for the Atty Award and she has received an Illinois Arts Council Literary Award and the San Miguel Writers’ Conference Poetry Award. 

Valerie writes: “I’m so excited to meet other writers, work with Victoria Chang, develop new work for my next book, and of course, go for coastal walks. My first book came out a year ago, and I’ve spent a great deal of my creative time in the past year traveling and giving readings. I’m eager to be among writers and to have space and time to generate new work, and affirm daily writing habits.”

Soroptimists International of Fort Bragg Nonfiction Scholarship

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Juliet Gelfman-Randazzo is a writer and audio-producer living in the Bay Area. She is the co-creator of Debutakes, a podcast about two women trying desperately to get onto a red carpet, and she produces audio for the Bay Area radio producers The Kitchen Sisters. She also works for City Arts & Lectures in San Francisco, and contributes to fields magazine. She is currently working on a television pilot about the apocalypse.

Juliet writes: “The piece I’ll be workshopping at the conference is titled ‘Critical Clothing,’ and begins with my lifetime obsession with being a spy. It is also about clothes. Barthes and Eileen Myles are on my reading syllabus, and so are Patti Smith and a guide for medieval anchoresses.”

OCTAVIA BUTLER MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP FOR SPECULATIVE FICTION

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Adriane Tharp is a writer, dancer, and novice conservationist. She grew up in Alabama and currently lives in Connecticut, though not for much longer. Her writing can be found in DIAGRAM, Cream City Review, and The New York Times.

Adriane writes: “I’m currently working on a collection of speculative short stories about women in rural Alabama.”

Theresa Connelly Scholarship

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Jasmin ‘Iolani Hakes is a writer from the Big Island of Hawaii now living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee. Her novel in progress, Hula, won the Southern California Writers Conference Fiction Award. She is an alumnae of the Iowa Writers Workshop Summer Program and the recipient of a Hedgebrook fellowship.

Jasmin writes: “Much of my work focuses on the connection between cultural inheritance and personal identity. During the conference I am looking forward to workshopping a memoir that tackles my complicated relationship with Hawaii and asks the question: who are you if where you’re from doesn’t exist?”

Hether Ludwick First Taste Scholarship

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Minyoung Lee is a writer living in San Francisco, CA with her well-traveled calico cat, Matisse. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in MoonPark Review, Riggwelter, Brilliant Flash Fiction, and The Drabble.

Minyoung writes: “I write flash fiction, short stories, and creative non-fiction focused around themes of grief and loss. During the conference, I hope to explore my fears in writing with Shobha Rao and build a writing community that I can grow with in the future.”

Voices of Diversity Scholarship

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Nay Saysourinho is the daughter of Lao refugees who immigrated to Montréal in the late 70’s. She has received fellowships from One Story, Kundiman and the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. She is a Tin House Summer Workshop alumna and her writing can be found in The Funambulist and The Margins, and is forthcoming in the Kenyon Review Online.

Nay writes: “I am currently working on a novel about endangered species in Southeast Asia, but will be workshopping a work of creative non-fiction during the conference.”

Under-30 Scholarship

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L. A. Johnson is from California. She is the author of the chapbook Little Climates (Bull City Press, 2017). She is currently pursuing her PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Southern California, where she is a Provost’s Fellow. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in the Alaska Quarterly Review, The American Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, and other journals.

L. A. writes: “I’m hoping to workshop new poems that address female desire through an exploration of California’s landscapes. I’m looking forward to meeting other writers and broadening my writing community!”

HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT WRITER SCHOLARSHIPS

All High School Student Writer Scholarship recipients are residents of the Mendocino Coast.

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Maxwell Brown

Maxwell writes: “What I would hope to get out of this conference is to connect more with my inner writing spirit and gain more confidence in my writing, as well as improve my current skills in general.”

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Amethyst Douglas

Amethyst writes: “By attending MCWC, I hope to further develop my personal writing style and creative skills. I am also looking forward to meeting other people who have the same passion for writing as I do.”

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Rhiannon Hawthorn

Rhiannon writes: “In the writer’s conference, I’d love to learn more on how to become a better poet and share my poems for feedback. I have a great passion for writing poetry and I would love this opportunity to be in the conference.”

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Jaden Valentine

Jaden writes: “I want to take this opportunity to really dive into my inner writer and learn more about myself. I want to grow with the help and guidance of those more advanced than I am.”

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Molly Windsor-Marshall

Molly writes: “This conference is an opportunity of which I plan to take full advantage. I want to soak-up any knowledge you’ll give me, as well as see where other writers of all ages are on their journeys. I am grateful for this chance to develop my skills, as well as receive and give feedback.”


If you would like to join the scholarship winners at MCWC 2019, you can register now at mcwc.org. There are still a few seats available in many of our workshops. And if you would like to support our scholarship program, please consider donating to MCWC at mcwc.org/donate.

 

Writing Outside the Genre Box with Scott Sigler

by Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

General registration for MCWC 2019 is now open! We are offering a range of workshops this year, including a Master Class in Memoir and our first ever Speculative Fiction workshop. We hope this variety encourages participants to write the unique and diverse books only they can write. As this year’s Speculative Fiction instructor Scott Sigler advises, “If you write what you want to write, you get the satisfaction of creating that thing that only you—in all the past and future history of mankind—could have created.”

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#1 New York Times best-selling author Scott Sigler has forged his own path through the world of publishing. He is the creator of fifteen novels, six novellas and dozens of short stories, as well as a co-founder of Empty Set Entertainment, which publishes his Galactic Football League series. He gives away his stories as weekly, serialized, audiobooks, with over 40 million episodes downloaded.

Scott discussed with us his journey writing cross-genre speculative fiction, creating series, and developing novels for young adults. He shared a taste of what to expect from his Speculative Fiction workshop at MCWC 2019.

In the FAQ page of your website, you described how the cross-genre nature of your first book made it difficult to get past the gate-keepers of the publishing industry. What advice do you have for writers working on projects that may not fit the traditional publishing standards?

Write the book you would want to read—if the publishers don’t like it, too bad for them.

I won’t lie, some of my cross-genre work did not find a traditional publisher, and that is a risk you take. That being said, I poured my heart and soul into that work; it shows in the final product, and that passion resonates with my readers. If I can sell thousands of copies of a story that blends scifi, crime and American football, I think it shows there are no limitations when it comes to creating what you want to create.

In the end, what matters is how hard you are willing to work on your book. How much blood, sweat and frustration will you endure to make it as good as it can be? If you don’t love what you’re writing, if you’re writing to fill a niche or what you think publishers want this week, the end product will show that lack of engagement.

How did writing cross-genre work out for me? Awesome, that’s how. I write what I want to write, and I’m doing it full-time. Are there people writing formula they aren’t crazy about, yet still selling far more than I? Absolutely. Good for them. Are there people writing formula they aren’t crazy about who are selling far less than me? Tens of thousands, no doubt.

There is no magic formula and no “correct” answer. If you write what you want to write, you get the satisfaction of creating that thing that only you—in all the past and future history of mankind—could have created.

How did you keep faith in your own projects while you were building your brand without a traditional publisher? Did you have moments of doubt?

How did I keep the faith? I quote Joe Pesci in Goodfellas: “Because I’m stupid.”

This is an industry tailored to masochists. When you burn and blister to create the best story you can, writing sucks. The rejections. The countless hours. The frustration of writing stuff that will eventually wind up on the scrap heap, because it’s just not right. If you’re going to endure this kind of punishment, you need to be in it for the long haul. You need to know you’re looking at years of unrewarded work before you get in shouting distance of where you’d like to be (and, yes, I know the stories of the college student whose first book wound up in a bidding war and much love to those peeps, but those stories are one in a million and that one, sadly, isn’t you).

My faith wavered. Numerous times. But in the end, I had the “I’ll show you” mentality. I had a giant chip on my shoulder and refused to stop. I dove in and figured it out as I went—I failed my way to success.

In this interview with Lightspeed Magazine, you talk about basing your science fiction in hard science, and that you utilize scientists and experts to peer-review your novels. What role does research play in your writing process?

For my modern-day horror/thrillers, research is critical. My storytelling technique is to tell the reader many things they probably already know, or have heard of, as a way to build rapport and establish myself as an authority in a particular field. The more established facts I give you, the more you subliminally believe that all the things I’m telling you are facts. When the time comes to push science beyond what is known (or to just flat-out make stuff up because it’s good for the story), my readers are already primed to accept what I am giving them.

Research is important for that relationship with the reader. If I get basic science wrong, I lose credibility with science buffs, teachers and many students. If I don’t get firearms correct, I instantly lose credibility with cops, soldiers and gun enthusiasts. If I write a devout Catholic character and get the basics of Catholicism wrong, I lose credibility among my religious readers. And so on, and so on.

The reader knows he or she is reading fiction. They know what they are reading is not reality. Proper writing technique lets the reader give themselves permission to experience fiction as if it were real. For me, research is critical in generations that permission—I have to respect the general body of knowledge that my readers already possess, or they will tune out.

 
 

You’ve written two trilogies (the Generations Trilogy and the Infected Trilogy) and the Galactic Football League Series, as well as stand alone novels. How is your writing process different for stand alone books compared to series?

First of all, if you can make a career out of stand-alone books, do it! Stand alone books are a joy. You can create anything you want (as long as you properly establish it in the context of that book).

Series are significantly more work as the story goes on. I have a massive wiki for the Galactic Football League series—Book Three must be accurate against the backdrop of what happened in One and Two, Book Four must be accurate against the backdrop of One, Two, and Three, and so on. Each additional layer must be properly built on the layers below.

I think of it like this: a stand-alone is like walking through a big, empty building—you can go wherever you want. A second book in a series is like walking through that same building, but after the walls and doors and rooms are built, limiting how you can get from one point to another. A third book is a maze. A fourth book puts a minotaur in the maze, one who likes to hit authors in the head with an axe and then cook them for lunch. A fifth book is that same building filled with concrete; bring a big drill. A sixth book? I’m writing one now. Please send help.

The Galactic Football League series is young adult (YA) series that combines science fiction and sports. Why did you decide to branch out into YA? What do you like about writing for that audience?

I first wrote The Rookie, GFL Book One, as an adult novel. It was only after educators reached out to me saying that—if the language was cleaned up—the book could be helpful for a segment of kids that are largely ignored in YA fiction markets: sports-loving kids who think they don’t like to read. Once teachers told me they had nothing like The Rookie and that it could help people discover a love for reading, we re-wrote the book for a YA audience. Heck, we even have a teacher’s guide!

The thing I like most about YA is that most books are stripped down to character and plot. Because of this, YA books are more cinematic to me. Authors have to tell a great story that moves quickly, because there aren’t any literary trapping to hide behind.

We are thrilled that you will be teaching the first ever speculative fiction workshop at MCWC. Can you tell us a little more about what you plan to bring to the workshop? What do you hope will be participant’s biggest take-away?

I bring a disciplined approach to the writing process, and to world-building, which is critical in most speculative fiction creations. I don’t coach on particular writing styles or techniques as much as I do on work ethic and the structure required to create long-form works.

I also like to think I bring a no-BS message that benefits students. I’ll communicate the realities I’ve experienced in the business. I’m not going to say “anything is possible!” or “if you just put your mind to it, you can reach the stars!” because that’s not reality. Some writers worse than you will attain more than you will, and some writers far better than you will attain nothing at all.

As for the biggest take-away, it’s getting the writer to take joy from the process, to embrace the frustration and setbacks as some of the building blocks you need to make a house you will be happy living in.

Speculative fiction may be a new genre for some of our participants. What books would you recommend for anyone interested in exploring the genre?

Speculative fiction: “A genre of fiction that encompasses works in which the setting is other than the real world, involving supernatural, futuristic, or other imagined elements.”

Ever watch a movie, TV show, or read a book with alternate history? Space travel? Psychics? Witches? Knights? Vampires? Superheroes? The paranormal? Time travel? Monsters? Dystopias? Utopias? Then you’ve consumed speculative fiction.

As for speculative fiction books to read, try some of these classics:

Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
Dragonflight by Anne McCafferey
1984 by George Orwell
Harry Potter and the Philisopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Dune by Frank Herbert



To make sure you get the workshop that best fits your work, be sure to sign up early for MCWC 2019! All workshops and consultations are first-come, first served, so don’t wait to register.

To learn more about Scott, and listen to his free podcasts, visit https://scottsigler.com/.

Victoria Chang: Balancing Writing and Life

by Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

With only two weeks before the deadline for MCWC 2019 scholarship and Master Class applications, many of you may be rushing to finish your submissions. Often as writers we find there simply isn’t enough time for our writing amidst everything demanding our attention!

In this month’s faculty spotlight interview, MCWC 2019 Poetry Instructor Victoria Chang shares advice on finding a balance between writing and life. As the author of four published collections of poetry, with a new book due for publication in 2020, Victoria can speak to the demands of a busy writing life. She has also edited the anthology, Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation, and published a children’s book. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Sustainable Arts Foundation Fellowship, the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award, and a Pushcart Prize. Though she spent many years juggling her writing career with a career in business, she now writes full time and teaches within Antioch’s MFA Program.

Keep reading for inspiration to get those scholarship and Master Class submissions ready! Applications close February 15. Visit mcwc.org for full application details.

 
 
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In addition to your MFA, you have an MBA from Stanford and you used to work as a business consultant, an experience that inspired your third book of poetry, The Boss. In this interview with The Adroit Journal, you mentioned that you only recently began writing and teaching full time. Can you share about this transition? Do you enjoy working in the writing world full time?

I worked as a consultant and also in marketing and communications. Towards the end of my business life, I worked in academia so it wasn’t entirely mercenary but it was still very different. I didn’t return to business after my mother passed and I won a Guggenheim that allowed me to leave my job. At that time, I was also adjunct faculty at Chapman University and gaining teaching experience. A job came up at Antioch and here I am. 

Working in the writing world full-time is a little different. I like it a lot, but truthfully, sometimes I miss working with business people because the training is different. The vocabulary is different. The mindset is different. It’s more collaborative and team-work isn’t some weird scary thing. Granted, there are a lot of things I don’t miss, but that is one thing I do miss. Nothing is ever perfect, of course. Now I’m busier than ever and barely have time to breathe.

In your latest book of poetry, Barbie Chang, you tackle issues of race, class, and gender through a perspective that the Los Angeles Review of Books described as a “feminist critique of spectatorship.” How was the writing process of this book for you? What inspired this book and how did it come about?

Initially these poems were first-person poems and I was mostly playing around to see if I could even write poems that had a bit of social critique to them. Eventually, I felt the first-person was too limiting so when the name Barbie Chang popped into my head, I laughed because it seemed so ludicrous (Barbie being an idealized American and Chang being un-idealized) and then I changed all the poems to third person and the poems became more fun to work on at that point. At some point, I also mined an older manuscript, pulled in a bunch of older poems and revised those into the manuscript, as well as wrote new poems at the end of the book.

 
 

You spoke about your MFA from Warren Wilson in this interview with The RumpusYou said you were accepted into another program, but it would have required you to leave your job so you turned down the offer. Later, you found the program at Warren Wilson, which was a better fit for your working schedule. What advice to you have for writers managing their passion for writing with the responsibilities of a day job? 

Back then, it was a more unusual to do a low-res program or to have a day job. Given the dearth of jobs in academia (with a livable wage), I think more and more people will have different backgrounds now. I think that’s a good thing. I’m always interested in reading stories or poems by people who didn’t go straight into a Ph.D. program right out of undergrad. In terms of advice, I have none, but get ready to be busy and disappointed. Add children into the mix and it gets harder. You have to really want a writing life and you have to really want to write.  

You now teach at Antioch University’s MFA Program. What do you enjoy about teaching? What do you hope the participants will take away from the poetry workshop at MCWC 2019?

Mentorship. I like talking to people so it’s nice to be able to parlay any life experience I have to other students. I hope that participants will learn how to pay more attention to language and see the possibilities that are not on the page. Plus, my favorite thing to do is to workshop and to teach in a small group setting that is not in the context of an academic semester. It is literally the thing that brings me the most joy so be prepared to have a lot of fun, learn a lot, and be in an inspired group. I truly love intensive workshops.

In this interview with Guernica, you bring up an interesting discussion about writing in the age of social media, and the connection today between “the person and the poems,” as you put it. How do you feel the digital age has affect the world of poetry? Do you have advice for poets trying to manage their art in the world of social media?

I have no advice about this but the advice my father once gave me when I was upset at someone who had written me a rude email. He said: “Just delete it. If someone calls, hang up. If they send you a letter, throw it out.” I thought he was ridiculous with his grand gestures, but I have to admit, I hang onto his advice hard now that he can’t communicate with me anymore. He’s right about social media. I don’t get involved in all the fights and other things that can happen on social media. For me, it’s about love, community, and sharing. Goodness. I ignore all the rest. I just “delete it,” as dad used to say.

 
 
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What do you see as the role and import of poetry in the world today? As an instructor in a low-residency MFA program, do you have advice for people balancing their passion for writing with the demands of work, family, and relationships?

I think poetry can be important to some people but I don’t see it as the end all be all. There are a lot of different art forms that can move people in different ways. I love poems and think they get people to think more deeply and to feel more deeply. I will only say that balancing is difficult and again, you have to write because you can’t not write. And also understand that there could be years or even decades where you’re just too busy to write and things come up. It’s not worth anyone’s time to beat yourself up. On the other hand, using time as an excuse is a problem if you’re using it as an excuse. Sometimes I say I don’t have time, but I realize it’s because I’m not that interested in a particular project.  

You have two dachshunds named Mustard and Ketchup, which are adorable names! You also are a mother and have published a children’s book, Is Mommy? How does your personal life inspire your writing? When you’re not teaching or writing poetry, how do you like to spend you free time?

I have no free time! Really. I’m in the process of trying to figure out how to earn some of that back. Wish me luck.


To learn more about Victoria, visit her website at victoriachangpoet.com.

If you would like to register for her Poetry workshop at MCWC 2019, please visit mcwc.org after March 1 when general registration will be open.

To apply for a scholarship, visit mcwc.org/scholarships.

To apply for the Master Class, taught by Myriam Gurba, visit mcwc.org/master-class.

Applications close February 15 and no late submissions will be accepted. Good luck! We look forward to seeing you at MCWC 2019!

Meet the MCWC 2019 Faculty

by Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

We are thrilled to announce our faculty for MCWC 2019! This year we will feature nine morning workshops, including our first ever speculative fiction workshop and a Master Class in memoir.

Each workshop meets all three mornings of the conference and features three hours of instruction, exercises, and manuscript discussion led by our expert faculty. Limited to just fourteen participants (or twelve juried-in participants for the Master Class), these intimate workshops provide a personalized learning experience focused on the art and craft of writing.

Afternoon events include open mics and seminars on a variety of topics. Our Paths to Publishing panelists will share their wide range of publishing success stories, and our Pitch Panel will give participants the opportunity to pitch their books to agents and editors. We will hold another Blind Critique Panel as well, brought back this year by popular demand.

Scholarship applications open January 1 and close February 15. During this period you can also apply for the Master Class, taught this year by memoirist Myriam Gurba. For full application details, visit mcwc.org. General registration opens on March 1, but you can explore our website to start planning your conference experience now. All workshops, seminars, and consultations are first-come, first-served, so don’t wait to grab your spot once registration opens!

 
Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Shobha Rao

Shobha Rao

Ismail Muhammad

Ismail Muhammad

 

NOVEL: Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Ingrid Rojas Contreras was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. Her first novel Fruit of the Drunken Tree (Doubleday) is an Indie Next selection, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and a New York Times editor’s choice. Ingrid has received awards and fellowships from Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, VONA, Hedgebrook, The Camargo Foundation, and the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture.

SHORT FICTION: Shobha Rao

Shobha Rao is the author of the short story collection, An Unrestored Woman, and the novel, Girls Burn Brighter. She is the winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Fiction, and her story “Kavitha and Mustafa” was chosen by T.C. Boyle for inclusion in Best American Short Stories 2015.

NON-FICTION: Ismail Muhammad

Ismail Muhammad is a novelist and critic based in Oakland, California. He is the reviews editor at The Believer, a contributing editor at Zyzzyva, and a staff writer at The Millions. His work has appeared in Paris Review DailyBookforum, The Nation, and other publications. He is currently at work on a novel. 

 
Jeannie Vanasco

Jeannie Vanasco

Mitali Perkins

Mitali Perkins

Victoria Chang

Victoria Chang

 

MEMOIR: Jeannie Vanasco

Jeannie Vanasco’s memoir, The Glass Eye, was featured by Poets & Writers as one of the five best literary nonfiction debuts of 2017. The Glass Eye was also selected as a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick, an Indies Introduce Pick, and an Indie Next Pick. Her second memoir, Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl, will be published by Tin House Books in the fall of 2019.

MG/YA: Mitali Perkins

Mitali Perkins has written ten novels for young readers, including You Bring the Distant Near (Walter Dean Myers Honor Award, nominated for a National Book Award), Rickshaw Girl (New York Public Library’s Top 100 books for Children in 100 Years), Bamboo People (American Library Association’s Top Ten Novels for Young Adults) and Tiger Boy (Charlotte Huck Honor Award, South Asia Book Award, Neev Best Young Readers Book Award.)

POETRY: Victoria Chang

Victoria Chang is the author of five books of poetry. Her latest book of poems, OBIT, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in 2020. Her previous, Barbie Chang, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2017. The Boss (McSweeney’s) won a PEN Center USA Literary Award and a California Book Award. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Sustainable Arts Foundation Fellowship, the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award, and a Pushcart Prize.

 
Scott Sigler

Scott Sigler

Myriam Gurba

Myriam Gurba

Charlotte Gullick

Charlotte Gullick

 

Speculative fiction: Scott Sigler

#1 New York Times best-selling author Scott Sigler is the creator of fifteen novels, six novellas and dozens of short stories. He gives away his stories as weekly, serialized, audiobooks, with over 40 million episodes downloaded. He is a co-founder of Empty Set Entertainment, which publishes his Galactic Football League series.

MASTER CLASS: Myriam Gurba

Myriam Gurba’s most recent book, Mean, a work that is part true-crime, part ghost story, and part personal history, was a finalist for the 2018 Judy Grahn Award as well as a New York Times editors’ choice. Her personal essays have been published in TIME and The Paris Review and she has written art criticism and historical monographs for KCET.

EMERGING WRITERS: charlotte gullick

Charlotte Gullick’s first novel, By Way of Water, was published by Blue Hen Books/Penguin Putnam, and her nonfiction has appeared in The Rumpus, Brevity, Pembroke, Pithead Chapel, and the LA Review. Her awards include a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship for Fiction, a Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship for Poetry, a MacDowell Colony Residency, a Ragdale Residency, as well as the Evergreen State College 2012 Teacher Excellence Award.

 
Andrew Karre

Andrew Karre

Philip Marino

Philip Marino

Rayhané Sanders

Rayhané Sanders

 

Andrew Karre, Editor

Andrew Karre is executive editor at Dutton Books for Young Readers. Over the course of his career, he’s had the pleasure of publishing debut novels by A.S. King, Maggie Stiefvater, E. K. Johnston, and many other award-winning authors. Books he’s edited have earned the William C. Morris Award, the Boston Globe Horn Book Award, Michael L. Printz and Coretta Scott King Honors, and have been longlisted for the National Book Award.

Philip Marino, Editor

As a senior editor at Little Brown, Philip Marino is interested in a wide range of nonfiction, most notably sports, business, music, history, tech, comedy, economics and philosophy. He has worked with a diverse group of authors, including Seth Kugel, Owen Benjamin, Philip Mudd, Winston Groom, Janine di Giovanni, Philip Kitcher, Evelyn Fox Keller, Michael P. Lynch, and Simon Critchley.

Rayhané Sanders, Agent

Rayhané Sanders is an agent at Massie & McQuilkin—where she represents literary, historical, and upmarket book club fiction; narrative nonfiction; and memoir—and an independent book editor available for hire. Her clients include bestselling and award-winning authors Lidia Yuknavitch, Kerry Cohen, Janet Beard, Jonathan Weisman, Maureen Stanton, Devin Murphy, and others.


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

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

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!


Meet MCWC’s new executive director

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

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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/.

MCWC 2018 Success

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

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!”

Molly Bee

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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Get Ready. Get set. Go!

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

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 from the expertise provided by the occasional MFA, author, or editor you will run into.” 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! 
 

Faculty Spotlight: Guadalupe Garcia McCall

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

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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.

Exciting new changes to MCWC leadership

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

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/.

Hollywood comes to the Mendocino Coast

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

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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/.

Ready, set REGISTER!

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

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.  

Elizabeth Rosner color 2017 mod.jpg
 

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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Book_Gravity.jpg
 

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.

Only two weeks left!

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

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!

Now accepting scholarship and master class applications!

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

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 Writer’s 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

Meet our 2018 faculty!

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant 

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 Writer’s 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.

Making a list and checking it twice?

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

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!

Faculty Spotlight: Elizabeth McKenzie

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Executive Assistant

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!