Faculty Spotlight: Jody Gehrman

by Cameron Lund, MCWC Social Media Manager

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 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!

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