Writers can approach characterization very differently, just as readers can react to those characterizations in very personal and subjective ways. There’s no doubt, however, that certain characters in literature come to life more than others. What is the difference between those that are dynamic and memorable and those that are flat and forgettable? What, more importantly, gives a character humanity? What makes them convincing or unique? What does it even mean to be unique? This session will be a conversation on these very questions and how answering them requires us to move beyond the page, beyond the craft itself, and look first at our own humanity and what fascinates and mystifies us about each other. We’ll explore how we can look within ourselves to create not only characters who resemble us but also those who are nothing like us.
Vu Tran was born in Vietnam and raised in Oklahoma. His first novel, Dragonfish, was a NY Times Notable Book. He is the recipient of a Whiting Award and an NEA Fellowship, and his short fiction has appeared in the O. Henry Prize Stories, the Best American Mystery Stories, and other publications. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Black Mountain Institute in Las Vegas, he is currently a criticism columnist for the Virginia Quarterly Review and an Assistant Professor of Practice at the University of Chicago, where he is Director of Undergraduate Studies in Creative Writing.
9-9:30 Registration and Socializing
We think of ghost stories as part of the horror genre but ghosts have been the fulcrum of stories and novels across genres for centuries. In this workshop, we'll explore:
Participants will receive examples, worksheets and a toolbox of ghost story moves to bring into their fiction and non-fiction work!
Bonus! Flash Fiction Ghost Story Contest: Members, please submit your (up to 500 word, double-spaced flash fiction in Times New Roman 12 pt in a Word document) flash ghost story to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org by 12 noon on October 17, and Sara will select the winners. The top three to be published in the OCWW Newsletter. She will also read the winning story at her session.
Sara Connell is an author and writing coach with a private practice in Chicago. She has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, The View, FOX Chicago, NPR, and Katie Couric. Her writing has appeared in: The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Parenting, Tri-Quarterly, IO Literary Journal, Schlock, Psychobabble and The Bangelore Review. Her first book Bringing In Finn was nominated for ELLE magazine Book of the Year.
SPECIAL OFF-SITE EVENING SESSION
Memoirist and novelist Zoe Zolbrod will discuss the use of multiple storylines in fiction and nonfiction narratives, which can result in work that’s deeper than the sum of its parts. She’ll provide examples of various sorts of braided narratives, analyze how they function, suggest ways to avoid possible pitfalls, and talk about her own use of them. The second hour of the program will include writing exercises designed to unveil connections between characters, time periods, or topics that will get writers thinking about new ways to structure their work.
Bio: Zoe Zolbrod is the author of the Ippy-award-winning memoir The Telling and the novel, Currency. Her essays have appeared in places such as Salon, The Guardian, Lit Hub, the Manifest Station, and The Rumpus, where she served as the Sunday co-editor. Zoe teaches at StoryStudio.
Zoe will accept manuscripts
Tone is perhaps the least contemplated of literary techniques--often reduced, blandly, to "the writer's attitude to her subject." But, hang on, that's half the ball game! Somehow, we're rarely reminded to read (or write) for tone, the very element that most distinguishes one writer from another. In this session, we'll analyze selections from authors like Lorrie Moore, Natalia Ginzburg, and Edward P. Jones, who are not only consummate storytellers and prose stylists but frequently surprise us with tonal juxtapositions and shifts. You'll also bring in excerpts (a page or so) of your own writing, which we'll reshape and reimagine through a series of brief exercises. What does it look (and sound) like when we address a weighty subject through manic humor? Or a humorous subject through grave, stentorian prose? Irony, foreboding, whimsy--all are effects are central to the reading experience, and all rely on a close understanding and careful control of tone. This discussion will help us both revise old work and generate new ideas and give us space to revisit one of the core principles of literary technique.
Will Boast is the author of a story collection, Power Ballads, a memoir, Epilogue, and a novel, Daphne. His short fiction, reporting, and essays have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, The Guardian, Glimmer Train, and the Virginia Quarterly Review, among other publications. He's held fellowships from Stanford University and the American Academy in Rome and teaches on the core fiction and nonfiction faculty at the University of Chicago.
You want to write about a moment from your past, but you worry about what your real life characters, your readers, and your inner critic will say. How can you write the truth when there's so much at stake? In this workshop, led by memoirist and personal essayist, Nadine Kenney Johnstone, you will learn why it’s crucial for writers to speak their truth in their writing. In this session, you will read published examples of truthful writing and learn how to write about yourself and your characters in a way that it is both fair and honest.
Nadine Kenney Johnstone is the author of the memoir, Of This Much I'm Sure, which was named Book of the Year by the Chicago Writers Association. Her infertility story has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Today’s Parent, MindBodyGreen, Metro, and Chicago Health Magazine, among others. She teaches at Loyola University and received her MFA from Columbia College in Chicago. Her other work has been featured in various magazines and anthologies, including Chicago Magazine, PANK, and The Magic of Memoir. Nadine is a writing coach who presents at conferences internationally. She lives near Chicago with her family. Follow her at nadinekenneyjohnstone.com.
Nadine will accept manuscripts for critique. Please see manuscript guidelines on our website: ocww.info
“...A short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger." - Stephen King
"When you read a short story, you come out a little more aware and a little more in love with the world around you." - George Saunders
Whole worlds, lives, relationships, experiences can be held in the few slight pages of the short story form. But how? What do we tell, what do we leave out? Where do we start, how do we end? In this workshop, we will study a variety of short story elements and concerns (structure, form, passage of time, entry points, promises, endings, "aboutness," discovery, and, and, and) through reading published models and writing activities. Whether you are writing new or revising, this session will give you strategies for finding your way.
Patricia Ann McNair writes fiction and nonfiction. The Temple of Air (stories), won Southern Illinois University Devil’s Kitchen Readers Award, Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year, and was a finalist for Society of Midland Authors Adult Fiction Award. And These Are The Good Times (essays), was a Montaigne Medal finalist. Named as a Writer to Watch by the Guild Literary Complex, McNair directs Mining for Story, a writers’ retreat in Wisconsin. She is the director of undergraduate creative writing programs at Columbia College Chicago, and is on the graduate faculty there. McNair was nominated for the Carnegie Foundation’s U.S. Professor of the Year.
Should my story be fiction or memoir? Is it an essay or a short story? First person or third? Short chapters or long? Should there be a prologue? An epilogue? The questions go on and on. And as a writer, if you get caught up in trying to answer them all you may never get to the real work—telling a good story. Eventually, though, don’t all those questions need to be answered?
In this workshop, you will learn how to navigate these questions in a way that will keep them from getting in your way, slowing down your process, or limiting a story’s potential. Through lecture, discussion, and exercise, you’ll learn how to find the right bucket for your work, or discover if it even needs a bucket at all.
If you’re planning to attend and you’d like an excerpt from your work-in-progress to be in our handout and discussed at the session, please email up to 500 words single-spaced in Times New Roman in Word to email@example.com by November 14. The first 12 submissions will be included in the handout and David will review as many as time allows. Please do not mention if your submission is fiction, non-fiction, memoir, essay or short story.
David W. Berner is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster, author, and associate professor at Columbia College Chicago. He is the author of seven books of fiction and memoir, several of them winning awards from the Chicago Writers Association, the Society of Midwest Authors, and the Eric Hoffer Book Awards.
In 2011, David was named the Jack Kerouac Writer-in-Residence at the Jack Kerouac Project. He lived and worked in Kerouac's historic home in Orlando, Florida for three months. In 2015, David was named the Writer-in-Residence at the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park, IL. David is also a radio journalist, reporting and anchor for Chicago’s WBBM Newsradio . His audio documentaries have been heard on public radio stations across America.
Unless every character you write is exactly like you, fiction involves writing across difference. Those differences might be ones of identity and demographics, or they might be ones of knowledge, experience, setting, and historical era. With so much valid concern and debate around the touchy issue of appropriation, writers can find themselves crippled by fears: Do I have permission to write this? What if I get it horrible wrong? Even if I do it well, will people be upset that I wrote outside my own life?
Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers is a novel that took the author far outside her own lived experience and her own identity, and in this talk she will share not only the essential questions she asked herself as she wrote, but the strategies—of research, of craft, and of publishing—she arrived at by the end. We’ll discuss techniques for researching lives unlike our own, for approaching filter readers, and for making sure we’ve approached our characters with the respect they deserve.
Rebecca Makkai is the Chicago-based author of the novel The Great Believers, a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, one of the New York Times' top ten books for 2018, winner of the ALA Carnegie Medal, the Stonewall Award, the Heartland Prize, and the Chicago Review of Books Award, and a pick for the New York Public Library’s 2018 Best Books. Her other books are the novels The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House, and the collection Music for Wartime – four stories from which appeared in The Best American Short Stories. Rebecca is on the MFA faculties of Sierra Nevada College and Northwestern University, and she is Artistic Director of StoryStudio Chicago. Visit her at RebeccaMakkai.com or on Twitter@rebeccamakkai.
We've all read books where we've skipped the sections in which the authors are describing the landscape. And yet, there are other books in which those are sometimes the most compelling sections of all. What makes the difference? How can we make sure that our treatments and understanding of the role of landscape in our work deepen and enrich our work, rather than bog it down? This session will be providing some answers.
Goldie Goldbloom is an Australian writer living in Chicago with her eight children. Her latest novel is On Division, which was launched on September 17th from Farrar Straus and Giroux. Her fifth book, Marguerite and Eleanor, is forthcoming in 2020, also with Farrar Straus and Giroux. Her fiction and nonfiction have received many prizes and awards, including from the National Endowment for the Arts, the City of Chicago, the Brown Foundation, Best Australian Short Stories, Le Monde and others. You can find her writing in many fine journals, including Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner and at NPR and Le Monde. Goldie teaches at the University of Chicago and in Northwestern University's MFA program for writers.
Goldie will accept 2 manuscripts for critique in order of submission. Please see manuscript guidelines on the OCWW website: ocww.info for details.
9-9:30 Registration and Socializing
Writing a synopsis of your book can be one of the more challenging tasks for a writer. How do you compress all the many ideas, characters, and plot twists into a two-page (500-600-word) document? What's the difference between the summary in your query letter, the back cover copy, and a synopsis? In this discussion, Eileen Favorite will discuss how to write an effective synopsis for your book, with some clear ideas about do's and don'ts. We will discuss how to (1) describe your book's narrative arc, (2) identify the major plot points, themes, and conflicts, and (3) introduce the main characters and how they change over the course of the narrative. Three attendees will have their synopses shared with the group.
Eileen Favorite’s first novel, The Heroines (Scribner), has been translated into six languages. Her essays, poems, and stories have appeared in The Rumpus,Triquarterly, The Toast, The Chicago Reader, Diagram, and others. Her essay "On Aerial Views" received First Place in the Midwest Review's Great Midwest Writing Contest. She’s received fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council for poetry and for prose, and was on the 2019 New City Lit 50. She teaches writing and literature at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and at the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies.
Eileen will accept five 500 to 600 word synopses for critique and to be included in the handout for discussion. Submissions will be accepted in the order of receipt. Please see manuscript guidelines on the OCWW website: ocww.info for guidelines and fees.
Every writer yearns for good feedback. And by "good," we don't mean your writing group shouting "I LOVE THIS!" We mean useful. We mean supportive. And we mean well-intentioned. Giving good feedback isn't as easy as it may seem. It requires us to suspend our taste, to pack away our expectations, and to encounter the work on its own terms. In this session, Eric Rampson will try to demystify the art of giving good feedback and provide tools to help you make use of the feedback you receive regardless of its inherent "goodness.
Eric Rampson is a Chicago-based writer who spent almost 20 years studying, performing, and teaching improv comedy before getting his MFA in Fiction from The MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. His fiction has been published in Change Seven Magazine, The Matador Review, Typishly, Metonym, and The Gateway Review, and is forthcoming in Leaf~Land and Broad River Review. His first novel, Always Already, is looking for a home while he works on the next one.
Eric will accept manuscripts for critique. Please see manuscript guidelines on our website.
This session looks at poems in a way that will afford a fresh perspective on techniques, aims, and overlaps between poetry and fiction.
Genre isn’t a wall we write behind. As writers we locate our work along a continuum and what divide there might be between genres is wholly open to two way traffic. Like fiction, poetry depends on narration, the use of image, an attention to sentence rhythm, etc. How compression is achieved in poems is a skill that can be carried over into prose. As Ray Carver once answered in an interview when asked why, given the success of his stories, he continued to write poems:
“I write poetry because I couldn’t write the stories I write without it."
Stuart Dybek's The Start of Something: Selected Stories by Stuart Dybek was published by Jonathan Cape/Vintage in 2016, and two new collections of fiction, Ecstatic Cahoots and Paper Lantern, were published simultaneously by FSG in June 2014. Dybek’s previous books of fiction are Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, The Coast of Chicago, and I Sailed with Magellan. He has also published two volumes of poetry, Brass Knuckles and Streets In Their Own Ink. His work is widely anthologized and appears in publications such as The New Yorker, Harpers, The Atlantic, Tin House, Granta, Zoetrope, Ploughshares, and Poetry. Dybek is the recipient of many literary awards including the PEN/Bernard Malamud Prize for “distinguished achievement in the short story”, a Lannan Award, the Academy Institute Award in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writer’s Award, the Harold Washington Literary Award, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and four O’Henry Prizes.
His work has appeared in Best American Poetry and in Best American Fiction. In 2007, he was awarded both a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the Rea Award for the Short Story. He is the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Northwestern University.
Whether you are writing a play, screenplay, teleplay, or adapting a novel or memoir into one of these dramatic forms, riveting scenes are the key to a gripping story that’s intended to be performed by actors.
This workshop will do a deep dive into scene work. Members are invited to submit a scene ahead of time to be entered into the Compelling Scene Contest. Mary Ruth Clarke will select the most compelling submissions to be read by professional actors at the workshop (great prize, right?).
The workshop will begin with a brief overview of what elements make for great scene work, and then we’ll jump right into the actors reading the winning scenes, followed by a discussion and Q&A with the instructor and the professional actors (much can be gleaned from their perspective on how they approach scene work).
You may submit your manuscript just for the contest, or you may submit it for the contest and written critique at $3 per page. Please see manuscript guidelines on our website: ocww.info for details and specify contest only or contest and critique on your manuscript.
Comedy, Drama, Dramedy
Plays, Screenplays, Teleplays
Aim for no more than 3 characters (but no worries if there are more)
Maximum 6 pages, less is better
Don’t fret the formatting – that’s another worry for another session
This workshop is for playwrights, screenwriters, teleplay writers, as well as novelists and memoirists.
Mary Ruth Clarke co-wrote and starred in the original Meet the Parents and co-adapted it into the blockbuster version, starring Robert De Niro. Her play Bonhoeffer’s Cost has been produced at The Agape Actors Co-op in Austin, Texas, Philadelphia's Beacon Theater, and the Provision Theater in Chicago. Agape also produced her farce Suffer The Long Night, co-written with her “Meet The Parents" partner, Greg Glienna, as did the Meta Theater in LA.
Her play Address Unknown was produced in Chicago by 20% Theater Company, and Fury Theater; her solo performance, I Could Kill Him For Dying, ran at Three Cat Productions in Chicago, and her musical, Fay Burns! had a 28 Hour Workshop and two staged readings at Chicago Dramatists, where she is a Resident Playwright and heads up the screenwriting and television classes.
Recent Saturday Series staged readings include Alice and Celia and Whatever It Takes, a comedy screenplay, directed by Second City’s Pat McKenna, and her play Right In Front of Us.
Mary Ruth is a screenplay consultant for clients in LA and Chicago, a Resident Playwright at Chicago Dramatists, where she heads up the screenwriting program, and teaches screenwriting at Story Studio. She lectures regularly at the Chicago Screenwriter’s Network, and has presented workshops for the Off Campus Writer’s Group, the Chicago Independent Film Project, and Renaissance Theaterworks Milwaukee. She is a member of the Writer’s Guide of America East and the Dramatists Guild.
Mary Ruth will accept Comedy, Drama, Dramedy, Plays, Screenplays, and Teleplays up to 6 pages for critique. Please see manuscript guidelines on the website: ocww.info.
Since the dawn of the written word, humor has been a tool to tell the truth and target our humanity with brevity and a masterful air of ease. In fact, writing humor is no joke: there are a lot of complex principles and ideas that can make or break a potentially comedic piece of writing. This brief workshop will focus on the nuts and bolts of the ever-expanding genre of humor writing, while allowing participants to practice inside the form. We'll differentiate between satirical writing, deadpan or dry humor, situational comedy, and short-form humor writing for publication.
Sophie Lucido Johnson is a Chicago-based writer, cartoonist, and illustrator whose work has been published in The New Yorker's Shouts and Murmurs, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and The New York Times. Her first book, Many Love, was released by Simon & Schuster last year. She has worked as a nationally touring comedian, and has had comics published in dozens of places.
Sophie will take manuscripts to give feedback on use of humor. Please see the manuscript guidelines found on our website: ocww.info.
The middle-grade market is always hot, picture book fiction and nonfiction are big sellers, and graphic novels fly off the shelves. Join Chicago children's author Kate Hannigan as she talks about writing, research, catching an editor's eye, and marketing books for young readers. This session is appropriate for experienced children’s authors or those with a children’s book tucked away in their dreams.
Kate Hannigan writes fiction and nonfiction, and especially loves mining history for remarkable people whose stories deserve to be told. Kate's newest title is CAPE: The League of Secret Heroes, Book 1, a three-book historical fantasy series with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. Her historical fiction The Detective's Assistant, about America's first woman detective, received the Golden Kite Award for best middle-grade novel, was a California Young Reader Medal honoree, a Booklist Editors' Choice selection, Nerdy Book Club Award Winner, Bank Street College Best Children's Book, Chicago Public Library Best Book, and Illinois READS State List selection. Her picture book biography A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women's Rights was a Society of Midland Authors honoree, a Junior Library Guild Selection, a Bank Street College pick, and a Chicago Public Library Best Book. When Kate isn't reading, researching, or chasing down her dog, she likes to spend time with her busy family. You can find her online at KateHannigan.com.
Kate will accept manuscripts for critique. Please see the manuscript guidelines found on our website: ocww.info.
When talking about our favorite moments in books, movies, or TV shows, we often say “I loved that part because it was so poetic.” What is meant by that and how do we create those poetic moments in our own poems or stories? How do we express our conventional emotions in new and imaginative ways? We will examine the relationship between similes and metaphors, utilizing the two to make certain lyrical moves within our own narratives in order to achieve those moments of transcendence that make great poems and stories memorable. After deep-diving into the imagination quadrant of Gregory Orr’s poetic framework and matrix, we will read and discuss the work of Judy Jordan, Tracy K. Smith, Kim Addonizio, Dorianne Laux, and Ocean Vuong, among others. We will dissect the lyrical devices necessary to incorporate certain transcendent elements into our work by invoking figurative, literal, and emotional connections to the unexpected use of like objects and emotions as well as geographic and temporal landscapes.
John McCarthy is the author of Scared Violent like Horses (Milkweed Editions, 2019), which won the Jake Adam York Prize. He is also the author Ghost County (Midwestern Gothic Press, 2016), which was named a Best Poetry Book of 2016 by The Chicago Review of Books. John is the winner of The Pinch Literary Award in Poetry, and his work has appeared in American Literary Review, Copper Nickel, Hayden's Ferry Review, New Ohio Review, Passages North, Sycamore Review, TriQuarterly, Zone 3, and in anthologies such as Best New Poets 2015 and New Poetry from the Midwest 2019. He received his MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and currently lives in Evanston, Illinois.
John will accept poetry and prose for critique. Please see the manuscript guidelines on the OCWW website: ocww.info.
“We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry," wrote poet William Butler Yeats.
What does creative non-fiction have to learn from the inward seeking that is poetry? This talk will explore how we may include associative, poetic logic in creative non-fiction. We will look at works of creative non-fiction that are neither performative conversations with the reader nor entirely interior arguments, but, rather, genuine quests that involve the reader in the author’s experiences of uncertainty and change. We will examine the use of conversation in essays, and will explore how including others' voices can help create an echo of metaphor that traces the author's inner life.
Rachel Jamison Webster is the author of the unpublished memoir, Did You See the Sky, several chapters of which have been published as essays in outlets including Tin House, Poetry, Drunken Boat, The Baltimore Review and The Columbia Review. She recently received a Kaplan Fellowship from Northwestern to write her second book of Creative Non-fiction, tentatively titled, Before and Behind Us in Time. Rachel’s book, Mary is a River (Kelsey Books 2018), was a finalist for the National Poetry Series in 2014. She is also the author of September (TriQuarterly 2013); the cross-genre volume, The Endless Unbegun (Twelve Winters 2015); and two chapbooks, The Blue Grotto and Hazel & The Mirror (Dancing Girl Press 2009, 2015). Rachel lives in Evanston, where she is an associate professor of Creative Writing at Northwestern University.
This workshop is designed to instruct writers of all levels to focus on story development through voice, movement and structure by reading published work, participating in word exercises, in-class writing and read back in small groups. We will also discuss giving and receiving constructive feedback.
The Literary Legos consists of:
See It. What’s happening between characters? Where are they? What’s taking your attention?
Explore It. What else is happening? What is not being said? Who is the surprise character? Discover what you didn’t see the first time.
Move It. Voice, character development, place, dialogue will advance your story on the page.
Finish It. Every writer needs to decide what it means to stick the landing.
Cyn Vargas’ short story collection, On The Way, received positive reviews from Shelf Awareness, Library Journal, Heavy Feather Review and Necessary Fiction, among others. Book accolades include: Book Scrolling's Best Short Story Collections of All Time, Newcity Lit’s Top 5 Fiction Books by Chicago Authors, Chicago Book Review’s Favorite Books of 2015, Bustle’s 11 Short Story Collections Your Book Club Will Love, and Chicago Writers Association 2015 Book of the Year Honorable Mention.
Cyn's prose and essays have been widely published. She received a Top 25 Finalist and Honorable Mention in two of Glimmer Train's Short Story Award for New Writers Contests, is the recipient of the Guild Literary Complex Prose Award in Fiction, a company member of the award-winning storytelling organization 2nd story, on the Board of Directors for Hypertext Studio. Cyn was twice selected as artist-in-residence at the Ragdale Foundation and teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and is currently working on her novel. Visit her at cynvargas.com
Cyn will accept manuscripts for critique. Please see manuscript guidelines on our website: ocww.info.
The poet Paul Valery says, “In the first draft is the talent. In the second is the art.” But what about the fifth draft? Or the twenty-fifth? With a first draft, it’s necessary to banish our internal critics. With each successive draft, however, we must be both creator and editor. How can we balance these two (sometimes conflicting) roles? How can we be effective readers of our own work? How can we find practical ways of seeing our work anew, of re-envisioning it after many drafts? Revision isn’t simply line-editing. In revision, we must confront our evasions in order to continue moving forward. Sometimes we discover that a forward direction isn’t where the work leads us; writing can take a circuitous path. How can we listen to the work, and to our own internal editor, without losing stamina? How can we push through fatigue and doubt in order to continue writing and revising? This can entail soul-searching and a release of old expectations in order for new ideas to arise. Revision is a dialogue with our own work. In this session we will begin the conversation.
Frances de Pontes Peebles is the author of the novels The Seamstress and The Air You Breathe. Her books have been translated into ten languages and won the Elle Grand Prix for fiction, the Friends of American Writers Award, and the James Michener-Copernicus Society of America Fellowship. Her second novel, The Air You Breathe, was a Book of the Month Club pick. Born in Pernambuco, Brazil, she is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she also served as a Visiting Associate Professor of Fiction in Spring 2019. She has received a Fulbright Grant, Brazil’s Sacatar Foundation Fellowship, and was a Teaching Fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Her short stories and essays have appeared in O. Henry Prize Stories, Zoetrope: All-Story, Missouri Review, Indiana Review, Catapult, and Real Simple. Her novel, The Seamstress, was adapted for film and mini-series on Brazil’s Globo Network. She is proud to serve on the Board of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.
You have to clearly state what genre you've written to successfully pitch and sell your book. But in a publishing world of blended genres, crossover works, and digital shelf space, knowing exactly what genre you've written can be hard! In this session, literary agent Abby Saul will give an overview of the various genres, reveal how genre is discussed amongst publishing professionals, and share tips about the power (and pitfalls) of an important query and pitch tool: comp titles.
Abby Saul founded The Lark Group after a decade in publishing at John Wiley & Sons, Sourcebooks, and Browne & Miller Literary Associates. She's worked with and edited bestselling and award-winning authors as well as major brands. A zealous reader who loves her iPad and the ebooks on it, she still can’t resist the lure of a print book. Abby’s personal library of beloved titles runs the gamut from literary newbies and classics, to cozy mysteries, to sappy women’s fiction, to dark and twisted thrillers. She’s looking for great and engrossing adult commercial (including mysteries/thrillers, women's, and historical) and literary fiction. She's not looking for fantasy, sci-fi, or political thrillers - and no kids' books. A magna cum laude graduate of Wellesley College, Abby spends her weekends—when she’s not reading—cooking and hiking with her husband and son. Find her @BookySaul on Twitter.
Abby will accept the first 5 pages of your novel or short story for critique. Please specify which it is on the first page.
Every novel or short story, no matter what genre, contains an element of suspense. It's one of the universal "drivers" of fiction. It's also important to know for non-fiction work, such as true crime or investigative journalism. Learn how to incorporate suspense into your writing in a workshop by an award-winning suspense/crime fiction author.
Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago over 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Fifteen novels and twenty-five short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first. She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few. She has been a finalist twice for the Anthony and four times for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year. She has also been nominated for the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne, and has won the IPPY and the Readers Choice Award multiple times.
Special Evening Session 6:30-8:30 PM
All writers borrow a little. But when writers take too much, the resulting work can sometimes feel stale, even false. After all, as the writer Katherine Mansfield said, stories ought to “speak to the secret self we all have.” In this session, we’ll explore how to tap into this strange, secret self, how to harvest our own creativity and originality and steer clear of cliché, even as we’re awash in a sea of culture and media. We’ll study published work, considering how these authors push past the mundane and the expected, choosing details that surprise readers. We’ll conclude with exercises to help unlock the potential strangeness in our own writing.
Ben Hoffman's fiction has won the Chicago Tribune's Nelson Algren Award and Zoetrope's Short Fiction Contest. His work also appears in Granta, The Missouri Review, The Southern Review and other journals. The recipient of a Carol Houck Smith Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, he teaches creative writing at the University of Chicago and StoryStudio Chicago.
6-6:30 Registration and Socializing
Bio: Jennifer Solheim is a fiction writer and literary critic whose first book, The Performance of Listening in Postcolonial Francophone Culture, was published by Liverpool University Press in 2018. Her short stories have appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review, Confrontation, and The Pinch, and received Honorable Mentions from Glimmer Train. She teaches literature, film, and writing at the University of Illinois—Chicago, and is working on a novel about an indie rock band in family therapy as a BookEnds fellow at Stony Brook Southampton. Jennifer has a PhD in French from the University of Michigan and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars.
Jennifer will accept manuscripts for critique. Please see the manuscript guidelines on our website: ocww.info.
Do you have a backlog of abandoned stories and essays? Have you revised the life out a piece, trying to make it perfect? In this course, we’ll discuss some less common ways of waking up your prose and unlocking narrative energy. Toward this end, we’ll examine thrilling turns in several stories and essays. Some of the strategies we’ll cover include: finding and fanning hotspots; using transitions as transport; modulating register, diction, and rhythm; and making space for rough edges and mischief.
Genre: Fiction and Nonfiction
Optional: Bring a few "unworkable" pages from a work-in-progress.
Rachel Swearingen's stories and essays have appeared in Vice, The Missouri Review, Kenyon Review, Off Assignment, Agni, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere. Her story collection, How to Walk on Water and Other Stories, winner of the 2018 New American Press Fiction Prize, will be published in 2020. She is the recipient of a Missouri Review Prize in Fiction, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer's Award, and a Mississippi Review Prize in Fiction. In 2019, she was named one of 30 Writers to Watch by the Guild Literary Complex. She lives in Chicago and teaches at SAIC.
Agents Joanna MacKenzie and Marcy Posner will discuss the role an agent plays in finding a home for your book and their suggestions for landing an agent who would be a good fit for you and your work. They will share tips on writing a quality query letter and at what stage your manuscript should be in before you query.
Joanna MacKenzie joined Nelson Literary Agency in 2017 and is building a list of adult titles in the areas of mystery, thriller, and commercial women’s fiction as well as select projects for kids in the areas of young adult and chapter books. She loves creepy islands, mysteries set in close-knit communities (if those communities happen to be in the Midwest, all the better), and fierce female heroines. Joanna is looking for smart and timely women’s fiction where the personal intersects with the world at large, think Emily Giffin’s All We Ever Wanted or Camille Perri’s The Assistants; stories about the immigrant experience like Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake; and narratives dealing with the relationships that make us who we are for all ages like I’ll Give You The Sun by Andy Nelson.
Marcy Posner has spent a lifetime in books. After a brief stint as a librarian and fifteen years in publishing, Marcy made the transition to agenting and spent twelve years at the William Morris Agency as an agent and as Vice President and Director of Foreign Rights; five years as president of her own agency; five years at Sterling Lord Literistic as an agent and Director of Foreign Rights. Marcy is currently very happy at Folio. Her editorial skill and a deep knowledge of the publishing industry set her apart from many of her colleagues. When she works with her authors, she focuses editorially on how to make their books as strong as possible. Her extensive experience and connections are invaluable. Marcy knows the editors and publishing houses that are looking for a certain subject, or a different voice, or a particular kind of author. Her clients include Newbery Honor winner and New York Times bestseller Jacqueline Kelly, New York Times bestseller Sheri Reynolds, literary writer Christine Sneed, along with debut authors Lexie Elliott and Christi Clancy. She is seeking women’s fiction, thrillers, historical fiction, history, psychology, narrative non-fiction, YA and middle grade, fiction and non-fiction. She is not interested in genre fiction for any age especially sci-fi and fantasy.
How to submit to Marcy Posner: Query letter plus the first 50 pages by email attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joanna MacKenzie and Marcy Posner will accept query letters for critique. Please see the manuscript guidelines on our website: ocww.info for details.
Often our work crosses boundaries, blurs the lines. Today many writers are publishing hybrids. Examples of metafiction and autofiction that blur the lines are The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, winner of the National Book Award for fiction, and History of Violence by Edouard Louis.
Jane Hertenstein will talk about what constitutes a hybrid, the freedom to color outside the lines, and also some practical and ethical questions that pop up when considering how to evaluate and place work that blends memoir and fiction. Come prepared to explore all the many directions your writing may take you.
Jane Hertenstein is a repeat instructor at OCWW having presented on topics such as memoir and flash. She is the author of over 80 published stories both macro and micro: fiction, creative non-fiction, and blurred genre. In addition she has published a YA novel, Beyond Paradise, and a non-fiction project, Orphan Girl: The Memoir of a Chicago Bag Lady, which garnered national reviews. Jane is the recipient of a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Hunger Mountain, Rosebud, Word Riot, Flashquake, Fiction Fix, Frostwriting, and several themed anthologies. Her latest book is Cloud of Witnesses from Golden Alley Press. She can be found blogging at http://memoirouswrite.blogspot.com/@memoirjane.
Special Bonus! Jane, our resident flash expert, will accept 500 word flash manuscripts from members for a free flash contest. Write about a special memory, a moment you witnessed under a streetlight, write flash romance, flash mystery, or a flash of anger. Condense a darling you had to cut from a longer work or write whatever flashes into your mind. You choose your own writing adventure! Submission deadline is April 23. Please see manuscript guidelines on our website: ocww.info. First Prize: 20 page manuscript critique Second Prize: 10 page manuscript critique. Third Prize: Speaker's's book. All will be selected by the winners during our 2020-2021 program year.
To write a novel is to invite readers on a quest: both the writing and the reading processes are voyages of discovery. In this session we will talk about the ways in which novels contain mysteries for both writer and reader, whether we are writing actual mysteries or not. We'll first discuss the mysteries of the writing process, including how we discover what our books are really about, and then we'll talk about how all novels are mysteries in some ways, in that we need to provide questions for readers to answer, whether through the text itself or outside of it. We'll include discussion of your own work and some writing exercises as well.
Michelle Falkoff is the author of Playlist for the Dead, Pushing Perfect, and Questions I Want to Ask You. Her fiction and reviews have been published in ZYZZYVA, DoubleTake, and the Harvard Review, among other places. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and currently serves as Director of Communication and Legal Reasoning at Northwestern University School of Law.
6:30-8:30 PM Program
What is voice, exactly, and how do you find yours? You have a voice already; we all do. Finding your literary voice is a process of discovery, a matter of listening closely to yourself, paring away the noise of the many voices that engulf each of us every day, and then pressing that genuine natural voice you have through the form of language. Together, we'll discuss how this works, looking at various voices and what makes them unique, and practicing with our own.
Amy Hassinger is the author of three novels: Nina: Adolescence, The Priest's Madonna , and After the Dam. Her writing has been translated into Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and Indonesian and has won awards from the Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY), Creative Nonfiction, Publisher’s Weekly, and the Illinois Arts Council. She's placed work in many publications, including The New York Times, Creative Nonfiction, The Writers’ Chronicle, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She earned her M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and teaches creative writing at the University of Illinois. She grew up in Massachusetts, but now lives in Urbana, Illinois, where she sings in a band, The Jaybirds, and bothers her children.
The first chapter of any book has to do a thousand things at once: interest and engage the reader, kick off the plot, introduce the characters, set the tone, and establish the world of the story. In this class, award-winning author Abby Geni will share her insights about the daunting task of writing a powerful, compelling first chapter. We will talk about inciting incidents, strong first sentences and paragraphs, the idea of stasis and intrusion, the onset of tension, and the nature of voice. We will talk, too, about the revision process and how to know when your first chapter is done.
Abby Geni is the Chicago-based author of the novels The Wildlands and The Lightkeepers, as well as a short story collection, The Last Animal. Her books have been translated into seven languages and have won the Barnes & Noble Discover Award and the Chicago Review of Books Awards, among other honors. Her latest novel, The Wildlands, was named one of the best books of 2018 by Kirkus and Buzzfeed and was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize. Geni is a core faculty member at StoryStudio Chicago and recently served as Visiting Associate Professor of Fiction at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her website is www.abbygeni.com.