by Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant

Making a list and checking it twice?

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

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

*Or sometime that first week if a reindeer gets stuck in the chimney.

*Or sometime that first week if a reindeer gets stuck in the chimney.

 

Now, back to the great news about Jane!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant

FACULTY SPOTLIGHT: ELIZABETH McKENZIE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

By Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant

what's new with the newbies?

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

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

Dana Wagner

Dana Wagner

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

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

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

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

Chris Hall

Chris Hall

Cameron Lund

Cameron Lund

Julie Sullivan

Julie Sullivan

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Siebert and her tribe!

Jennifer Siebert and her tribe!

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

We look forward to welcoming you all home in 2018!

By Cameron Lund, MCWC Social Media Manager

and it's a wrap!

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

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

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

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

"The physical wonder of the place that is Mendocino…"

"The physical wonder of the place that is Mendocino…"

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

Poetry workshop with Shara McCallum

Poetry workshop with Shara McCallum

"…a place where one feels safe to share."

"…a place where one feels safe to share."

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

A new genre for MCWC and many of our participants

A new genre for MCWC and many of our participants

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

By Cameron Lund, MCWC Social Media Manager

Faculty Spotlight- Michael David Lukas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Cameron Lund, MCWC Social Media Manager

getting the most out of mcwc 2017

Play video for a glimpse of the MCWC experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

by Cameron Lund, MCWC Social Media Manager

Faculty spotlight: Lisa Locascio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 

 

 

by Cameron Lund, MCWC Social Media Manager

faculty spotlight: Jody Gehrman

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


MCWC 2017 registration opens—with many generous scholarships

registration IS now open!

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

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

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

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

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


MCWC 2017 Scholarships

Barry Brian Murphy Memorial Scholarship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A sneak peek at some MCWC 2017 faculty!

We're proud to introduce...

By Shirin Bridges and Ginny Rorby

We’re pleased to kick off the MCWC 2017 conference year with an introduction to some of this year’s faculty.

First, we are delighted to announce that our keynote speaker will be Michael Krasny, journalist, literature professor, award-winning anchor of NPR’s Forum, and the author of three books—including his latest, Let There Be Laughter. 

As the anchor of Forum, Michael has discussed books and writing with some of the most acclaimed authors of our time. We are very excited to bring his wit and wisdom to MCWC 2017 participants. 

Michael will be joined by a sparkling faculty, including novelist, playwright, and screenwriter Jody Gehrman who will lead our Master Class; current Jones Lecturer and former Wallace Stegner Fellow John W. Evans who will teach memoir; Shara McCallum, Director of the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University; and much-loved returning faculty member Michael David Lukas, novelist and former Fulbright Scholar in Turkey, night-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv, and waiter at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont.

Jody Gehrman

Jody Gehrman

Michael D. Lukas

Michael D. Lukas

John W. Evans

John W. Evans

Shara McCallum

Shara McCallum

Also returning is our standalone Publishing Bootcamp, which will be taught this year by Hilary Lawson, Editor, and Ann Edwards, Book Marketer, of HarperOne. Together, Hilary and Ann will give bootcamp participants insight into how a Big Five publisher evaluates and markets its authors and titles—and how one can gain an edge when approaching them.

Hilary Lawson

Hilary Lawson

Ann Edwards

Ann Edwards

So, mark your calendars for August 3rd-5th for the main conference, and August 6th for Publishing Bootcamp. Also make a note that this year, our venue will be the bright and cheerful campus of Mendocino Middle School, a stone’s throw from Mendocino village. 

You'll find details of our full faculty and descriptions of workshops and afternoon events at mcwc.org. And keep your eyes peeled for the scholarships application information coming in our next newsletter!

We look forward to welcoming you to MCWC 2017,

Shirin Bridges
Executive Director

Ginny Rorby
President