Jim Powell: Witness

By Celeste Williams

Some 40 years ago in Indianapolis, when disco dancing and aerobics drew bigger
crowds than Robert Bly and Etheridge Knight, Jim Powell conceived and breathed life into “one special non-profit organization” dedicated to writers and writing — the Indiana Writers’ Center.

While there has been evolution since 1979, including the deletion of a strategic
apostrophe, it is impossible to separate the organization from James Edward Powell. Powell, who turns 69 on February 19, is retired from more than 40 years of teaching, including two decades of nurturing the first half of the IWC. He is ready to celebrate his own major literary milestone: the publication of a book of more than a dozen fiction stories: Only Witness.


The IWC, which is publishing the book of short stories, will combine the launch of
Powell’s new volume and his role in the founding of the Indiana Writers Center at a reception and fundraiser March 8 at the Circle City Industrial Complex.

“Given his lifelong support of Indiana writers, it seems fitting for the IWC to publish his first collection of stories as part of the celebration of our 40th anniversary,” said Barbara Shoup, executive director of the IWC.

It is fitting, too, that the IWC pay homage to its creator. In writing.


——

 

Powell is seated in the front room of his Broad Ripple home, a laptop atop a stack of books on a coffee table. A clear oxygen line rests near his hip and snakes around the corner out of sight. He mostly ignores it, though the lifeline is close enough to grab if need be.

One can tell he’d much rather ignore the COPD that has constricted his breath and landed him in the hospital for more days than he’d like to count. He occasionally slips a monitor on a finger to check his oxygen level.

The percentage is high. Good.

“I’ve had a horrible health year,” he says. “This past year has been 16 days in the hospital three different times altogether. But that’s the disease,” he says with a resigned shrug.

“I still enjoy things,” he assures with a smile and a clear, steady gaze beneath a shock of white hair. He says illness might have cut short hobbies like gardening, biking and extended Mexico vacations, but not has not turned off his mind. And, Powell insists, he continues to “hear the voices of fiction” in his head: “They keep trying to get out!”

Powell says that image “stems from the many calls I’d take at the Writers Center from people telling me they had ‘a book in my head.’” His reply: “That must hurt; better get it out!”

Powell’s “head-book” has gotten out.

Only Witness includes several stories he has had published in magazines, and a number of newer ones. Its pending publication sends a smile spreading across his goateed face. He says he looks forward to the cover — an “infinity view” concept of a wide, verdant vista melding into endless sky.

 

Intellectuals & Liars

 

Powell’s view of the past stretches back to a childhood in tiny Elwood, Indiana, a place he describes as an unlikely “literary capital of Indiana,” the home of poet Jared Carter, a couple of lesser-known authors, and of course, former presidential candidate, Wendell Willkie.

The Willkie High School graduate said he won a writing contest in 6th grade, with a story called “ ‘Xeo’s Long Journey,’ a trip through the Egyptian city of the dead. I wrote a book of poetry in high school. But I never viewed writing as a career. I wanted to be an architect.”

Elwood is a “good place to be from,” he says with a chuckle, noting that leaving the little town was likely a forgone conclusion.

Powell majored in political science at Purdue —urban studies, of all things for a kid from rural Indiana. “But writing was always there, and my imagination was always there, too, so that was good.”

When Powell soured of politics during the Vietnam War, the writing instincts were at the ready as a replacement. “I went to George Washington University for two years, then I just got burned out on politics, because there was anti-war every second of your life. I worked at the Smithsonian for five or six months, came back to Purdue, wanted to change majors but couldn’t graduate if I did, so I graduated poly sci.

“But I started taking literature classes and creative writing classes.”

Powell says Italian-American fiction writer, Arturo Vivante, was a visiting professor at Purdue “who was very encouraging — too much so, perhaps, because I was pretty bad.”

Powell says he had a problem with an essential ingredient of storytelling: plot. “I didn’t know what plot was.”

He says Vivante sent one of his stories to the New Yorker. The rejection letter said something like, “ ‘This piece has problems with the narrative flow.’ Basically they were saying it had no plot!”

Still, he persisted. Powell received an MFA from Bowling Green in Ohio in 1976, then followed his literary interests to California. In 1977, he and a couple of friends started a bookstore in Santa Monica.

The store, “Intellectuals and Liars,” mere blocks from the Pacific Ocean, was a dream, the name coming from a quote depicting “two people you can’t trust,” Powell says. “We thought that fit fiction writers and poets pretty well.

“It was really cool, but it was awful competition, with 10 literary bookstores in L.A ., all better established than us. We were so broke. It’s not a good town to be broke in.”

Powell says his bookstore dream “only lasted six or seven months, because Lenny (a business partner) tried to kill me.” Powell offers no detail of said attempted murder, which was really extreme exasperation of Powell’s lack of customer service skill, he explains.

“I wasn’t meant to be a clerk. That was the end of my bookstore days. I came back to Indiana.”

Powell says he returned, in part to care for his widowed mother. His grandparents, who lived south of Indianapolis, were aging, too. He stayed with them as he looked for work in Indianapolis.

“Work …as a writer,” he says with a note of sarcasm. “In 1977. There was no work for a writer in Indianapolis in 1977.”

 

Freedom & Frustration

 

But there was something called “Free University.” Powell had a cousin, a poet, Tom Hastings, who was teaching poetry classes with the free-wheeling, counter-culture-ish organization born out of the Berkeley free-speech movement, with the motto: “Everyone Teaches, Everyone Learns.”

Classes were either free, or at least, very cheap.

“Free U was a hugely successful thing here in Indianapolis for a few years,” says Powell. But the “organization,” such as it was, was not defined by its intellectual pursuits.

“We had 300 disco-dancing classes a term,” Powell says. “Then, when disco died, aerobics came up.”

Disco and aerobics were blessings disguised in leg warmers for the Free U writers. “They were bringing money in like you can’t even believe,” Powell says. “So, they had plenty of room for free writing classes that made no money at all.”

Hastings taught poetry, while Powell taught fiction. Hastings published a photocopied lit-mag of sorts, called the “Indianapolis Broadsheet,” the only literary publication in Indianapolis at the time, which didn’t last, as “Tom was a poet, not an administrator.”

Hastings moved to Bloomington to teach at an alternative high school, and Powell was left with the Free University literary “stuff.”

Literary life continued to be a challenge in a city addicted to line dancing, group exercise and macramé, Powell says.

Case in point: “There was a reading at the old Hummingbird Café with Robert Bly, Etheridge Knight and a jazz saxophone player from New York. “Eight people showed up,” Powell says. He was astonished, appalled, and distressed.

“I said to myself: ‘I can’t live here.’

There were others in town with similar frustrations.

“Two guys had been running a series at the art museum who had been kicked out because they spilled wine in a grand piano in one of the reception halls,” Powell says. “So that was dying. And, there was an open reading series at a The Broad Ripple Tavern. I was up there with (poet) Alice Friman.

“The reading I went to got cancelled because the owner of the bar said that the time before, plugging the amp in, [someone] had unplugged the freezer and ruined a lot of stuff.”

Powell pauses, smiles. “…I thought he just wanted to get rid of the poets, to be honest with you. So we were sitting around there with nothing to do, and I volunteered to find a new place for the readings.

“…Famous last words!”

 

Born in the Alley Cat

 Left to right:  Jim Powell, Alley Cat Lounge owner Ray Modlin, and series host
Kevin Corn.

That’s when the Writers Center was conceived. In 1979. In complete frustration; with alcohol as a courage-booster.

Powell says that he knew that the Alley Cat, a “historic” bar he describes as “one of the 10 best dive-bars in the United States,” had two back rooms — one for pool, and one empty— a perfect venue for meetings and readings, he thought.

“I was scared to death, because Ray, the owner back then, was a big, gruff, truck-driver-type guy.”

Powell says he loosened his fear with a few drinks then approached Ray. “I said, ’Ray, wouldn’t you like to have a little poetry reading in here?’” Powell says he was astonished by the reply.

“He said, ‘Really good idea!’” Powell laughs with the memory.

“We were there eight years. Twice a month. So that was the first formal activity of the Writers’ Center. We decided it was an organization. It was the ‘Free University Writers Center.’”

Powell says it was fortunate that the fledgling center, though still connected to Free U, kept its own financial books. Because Free U was in trouble.

“Free U lasted until 1984,” Powell says. “And ended in semi-scandal, after the director, who was a good guy, but he was spending the money like it was his own. By then, aerobics and disco dancing had died. They were failing quickly, and had gone into bankruptcy.”

The writers center had cultivated its own books — and friends. It thus was thrown free of the mothership’s crash.

“A donor came forward with start-up money, and we incorporated in 1984 as the Writers’ Center of Indianapolis.”

The plural-possessive placement of the apostrophe after the ’S’ was very purposeful, Powell says, “because it was owned by the writers. That was the idea. It’s a redundant apostrophe; you don’t need it. (The IWC dropped it a few years ago.) But we were emphatic.”

Imagine it: A group of writers sitting around a table in a smoke-filled bar, drinking and discussing the placement of punctuation. Electric.

“It was very much art for art’s sake,” Powell says with a smile.

“Something was needed, I think. There was nothing else like it around town.” Powell visited more established writing groups, in Washington, D.C. and Minneapolis. “The Loft in Minneapolis was huge. Minneapolis was a place where people did the arts.”

Not so much in Indianapolis, then.

“We were always struggling,” Powell says. “The fiction workshop met right here in this living room, for years.” Powell’s front room is warm, with low lighting and wood floors. Books are placed as though they are being read, or waiting to be.

“We had no headquarters; this was the headquarters,” Powell says. “I always had a full class of about 10 people.” The room in the Broad Ripple bungalow isn’t large; it would certainly be an intimate gathering.

 

Writing Nomads

 

As the group grew, Powell says there were other venues for the wandering writers. A printer offered the second floor of his company in Speedway.

“We took it. It smelled like ink. It was bad, and probably contributed to my COPD, when I think about it. But it was space.”

The group was getting grants by then, and the free space was welcome. After that, Marian College housed the center. First, rented space in a dorm, then the caretaker’s cottage, Stokely Mansion, “which was pretty doggone nice,” Powell says.

There was enough room to run one class, a library where there was comfortable seating, an office and kitchen. “We did a lot of events there — some twice a week. More poetry than fiction, for sure.”

It was during that era that the Writers’ Center took over Ball State’s spring poetry festival, which had lost its funding. It started as the Spring Poetry Festival, became the Fall Fiction Festival, and eventually The Gathering of Writers, which today remains the IWC’s signature writing event of the year (March 9 this year at the Indiana State Library).

“We had good turnout right from the beginning,” Powell says. “We could have made money, but we broke even.”

The Writers’ Center revolved around events like The Gathering. “I always thought of it as a political act, too, Powell says, “all of which was supporting writers and the education of writers.

“I believed communication was the bottom-line in politics. If you teach people to be better writers, you get better …everything.”

Being the only writing game in town had its benefits, Powell says. There was little competition for grants. Powell admits, the writers were a bit full of themselves. “If you saw the mission statement, gosh, it was 20 pages long!”

They were also busy, with some ideas that worked, others that didn’t, including “a creative writing road show” where writers went to libraries around the state. “That was great idea that didn’t work very well.”

The Writers’ Center was more successful publishing chapbooks and anthologies, and had a magazine, “INprint, while still affiliated with Free U. (INprint became Flying Island, which is now entirely online.) Powell edited what he calls the center’s “first ‘big’ book” called, New Fiction from Indiana.

Indianapolis Star columnist Dan Carpenter wrote a column about the fiction anthology, Powell says, and sales took off. “All of a sudden, we sold 400 copies of that book!”

 

Upheaval; renewal

 

Powell was so busy, he had stopped writing himself. “Writing and editing don’t mix,” he says. And, by the mid-1980s, he was also teaching at IUPUI. And the Writers’ Center paid next to nothing.

“I was being paid very little, and oftentimes, not at all. I got paid one month out of the last 13 months I worked there.”

By the 1990s, Powell felt overworked, underpaid and depressed. “I knew by 1996 that I wasn’t good for the organization and it was killing me, too.”

His personal life was in shambles. A first marriage ended in divorce after just two years, and his mother was beaten when a burglar broke into her house. “I was a wreck,” Powell says.

“We did good work, still. But the organization needed more. I wasn’t the right person to do that.”

Powell says he had spent a good deal of his own money to keep the organization going. “I’m glad I did, but I shouldn’t have. Our board didn’t do their job; I wasn’t getting support. The relationship was severed. It was a sad departure.”

It was 1999. About three others who tried to direct the chaos followed, with varying levels of success. Barb Shoup, an author and former writing teacher, took on the executive director position 2009, a post she holds today.

Shoup gives Powell credit for keeping the organization afloat even during the hard times. “During his 20 years as the center’s director, Jim touched the lives of hundreds of writers, including my own,” says Shoup, who has written more than nine books.

Lists of Writers’ Center-sponsored festivals are replete with notable literary names, including (in no particular order): Susan Neville, Jared Carter, Etheridge Knight, Michael Martone, Alice Friman, Mary Oliver, Tobias Wolff, Andrei Codrescu, Patricia Henley, Scott Russell Sanders, Rita Dove, Dan Wakefield, Yusef Komunyakaa, Haki Madhubuti, Mari Evans, Robert Bly, Denise Levertov….

Powell, who had started teaching part-time at IUPUI in the 1980s, became a full-time instructor. He advised the student magazine, “Genesis,” and it thrived. Now retired, he is a senior lecturer emeritus.

Powell says starting his own writing again coincided with a health scare. He had smoked for 35 years, quitting “not soon enough, believe me. In 2010 they thought they saw spots in my lungs.” It turned out not to be cancer, but the COPD (the ominous acronym stands for “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease”) was steadily, stealthily stealing his breath.

Since then, with the help of a creative renewal fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis, Powell has attacked his writing with more urgency — at life-affirming speed.

“I started writing fiction again,” he says with a smile. “And I gotta tell you, it just came; it just flew out of me. Happily, it was much better fiction than I had ever written before, too. Because I knew so much more about it, having taught, and having edited.”

And, at long last, he had figured out the meaning of plot. The late Prof. Vivante would be proud.

“Once I started writing again, I have written pretty consistently,” Powell says. “I have 70-75 stories written to the end. Probably 30 of them edited enough to be published. About 18 of them in this book coming out. One more I’m working on…”

Powell has had stories published in Bartleby Snopes, Crack the Spine, Flying Island and Storyscape, among others.

 

‘Maddening’ Crowd; Fortunate Friendship

 

Success isn’t a smooth path. Powell says his stories have been rebuffed plenty of times. He seems to prefer rejection to not having written anything to reject.

Powell smiles through a recitation of recent refusals. “I got a rejection from North American Review today; I got a real encouraging one from somebody last week.” His ego seems beyond bruising.

Powell has many opinions about the way the written word has evolved. Much has changed in the writing world, and Powell realizes he has had a pretty good seat to the evolution.

The future? “I don’t know about the future,” Powell says.

“These hundreds of literary magazines are not going away — well, some of them should. What disappoints me is it is hard for me to find things that have substantial meaning, unless I come back to ‘mainstream’ fiction.”

He names some of his favorites.

“I like Georgia Review, Southern Review, Glimmer Train (which he notes will soon stop publishing). I’m not sure they are being read …by people. It used to be you got published, you were read, you got a book, and you might become famous. That was one out of a hundred people. Now, it’s one out of ten-thousand people.”

Don’t get Powell started on his view of creative non-fiction.

“Creative nonfiction didn’t exist when I was in school. I don’t like it. I don’t like reading it. Most of it would be a better novel. Now it’s acceptable to bend the truth and call it ‘memoir.’ I hate that!”

And, more people have decided they have books living in their heads that they want to extract.

“When I got my MFA, there were 15 programs in the country. There are now 175 residential, and there are 50-75 non-residential, and every little damn college in the world has a creative writing program now.”

Powell doubts the need for so many programs dedicated to mastering writing.

“It’s a shell game. There are a lot of people who write really well out there,” but cleverness seems to win over substance. "Now you’ve got 53-word stories… six-word stories! Micro-fiction! It’s maddening.

“But it is consumable. You consume it and forget it.”

Still, Powell surmises, despite the spun-sugar nature of some contemporary literature, change might be good in the long run. “Literature has changed over time. It keeps changing. What is brought into the canon if you will, will be different, and should be. …And that’s good.”

His view of the Indiana Writers Center — which excised the possessive ’s’ sometime after his exit?

 “I am proudest what the Writers Center has done — to try to be more connected to the community; get us out of the ‘art for art’s sake’ mindset” that marked the center’s early years.

Despite his views of the modern writing landscape, Powell, a man who still on occasion instructs young, aspiring authors from an “emeritus” position, has somehow avoided seeming curmudgeonly.

Getting himself back in the writing chair has seems to have been the cure.

Shoup, who took over the Writers Center from a burned-through Powell ten years ago, says his voice has come back strong. Of his story collection, she says: “…each story is filtered through the lens of a writer who knows who he is and where he’s from.

“It has been an honor for me to serve as the executive director of the Indiana Writers Center, where Jim’s legacy is alive and thriving.”

Powell says he looks forward to the launch that has been a lifetime coming. He admits to being nervous; he hopes to summon the stamina to enjoy the limelight. “I look forward to celebrating IWC's 40th will all the energy I can muster.”

Powell also wishes to share the glow with his wife of ten years, Karen Kovacik, an English professor at IUPUI, a former Indiana poet laureate, whom he lauds for her brilliance as a writer and award-winning translator of contemporary Polish poetry.

To Powell, his wife’s genius extends to her baking prowess, which has added to his waistline, but also her “patience and care,” as his health brings unexpected challenges to their life together.

Another serious influencer in Powell’s life is his next-door neighbor, Dan Wakefield.

Wakefield, novelist, journalist and screenwriter, whose best-selling novels “Going All The Way” and “Starting Over” were produced as feature films, credits Powell with his eventual return to his hometown.

Powell had invited Wakefield back to Indianapolis several times to give workshops for the Writers’ Center. “I was living in Boston at the time,” Wakefield says. He wonders if he would have come back to the place he had not lived since 1950, were it not for Powell’s call.

“He was sort of my re-introduction to the city,” says Wakefield, who moved back to Indiana in 2011. “I have always been very grateful to him for that.”

In a stroke of serendipity, Wakefield became a neighbor when the house next-door to Powell and Kovacik came on the market.

The closeness is more than geographic. “He is a serious writer and a dedicated writer as well as a talented writer, Wakefield says of Powell.  “I really admire his dedication and the work he puts in to make his work first-class.

“And, he is a great editor and helped me enormously in things I am working on now.” Wakefield says he has read all of the stories in Powell’s new book. “They are all high-quality.”

 

A World View, with Endings

 

Powell says the book is named for one of the stories. “But it also fits my approach to writing and the way I see the world.”

“Ambivalence” has been a regular criticism of his writing, Powell says. That state of mixed-feelings came honestly — out of growing up in a household marked by alcoholism.

“One of the things that gets born in those households is ambivalence. So, the endings of my stories are soft, usually. The change in the characters is subtle,” he says.

“I have always had this problem. I found a note from one of my professors said, ‘You just can’t do it, can you?’” — “It” being, finding a suitable resolution to his stories.

“I can now,” Powell says, with an air of triumph. His stories now have a narrative arc, and, “they do end.”

Even so, he says his world view has changed little. “I don’t have characters having great victories. I occasionally have them having great losses, but usually, it’s softer, you know? They change, but not a lot. It’s the concept of witnessing — of seeing the world.

“A lot of these characters are kind of like me in a way.

“So it’s a witnessing — only.”

 

Celeste Williams is a journalist and playwright, and is currently the president of the board of directors of the Indiana Writers Center.

_____

More information about the benefit:

Only Witness

A Benefit for the Indiana Writers Center featuring Jim Powell,
with an introduction by Dan Wakefield

Friday, March 8th    6-8 p.m.
Schwitzer Gallery of the Circle City Industrial Complex
1125 Brookside Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46202

$35- individual (includes a copy of Only Witness)
$50- couple (includes 1 copy of Only Witness)

Go here to register for this event.

 

 

Written by Indiana Writers Center — February 15, 2019

"Believe in Yourself and Be Persistent," Writing Tips from IWC Instructor Tracy Line

Tracy Line teaches several classes for the IWC, including Beginning Writers Boot Camp, Memoir 101, and Faith Writing. Her next class is an online class meant to get your butt in the chair and help you meet your weekly writing goals, Winter Warriors Online Writing Club.

We asked Tracy a few questions about her own writing.

What was the greatest piece of advice you ever got about writing?
Believe in yourself and be persistent. Lots of people write books, few people finish them.  

Why do you write?
I write because it brings me joy. Writing feels like a part of who I am. It is the one activity I can lose myself in. When I write, I lose all track of time.  

What are you working on right now?

I am currently revising a memoir I’ve written on the experience of being a caregiver for my father, who has Parkinson’s disease and dementia. It is emotionally packed so it is taking me a long time to complete. I am also working on writing and submitting some personal essays.  

Favorite books or essays about the craft of writing?

There are so many good ones. I especially liked Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, On Writing by Stephen King, Writing About Your Life by William Zinnsser and Still Writing by Dani Shapiro.   

What’s your favorite book, or the best book you’ve read recently? What do you love about it?

I read both fiction and nonfiction and can never pick a favorite book because I like many books for different reasons. A recent favorite was Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. It was such a compelling and shocking story and kept me engaged. I also enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. The main character is a bit odd, but by the end of the story, I found her to be very lovable.


Why do you like teaching at IWC? What do you look forward to about it?

I love meeting other writers, and sharing what I know about writing.  I’ve met so many amazing people and have kept in touch with many who’ve taken my classes. What a gift it is to connect with people who love the written word as much as you do.  

What advice would you give your beginning writer self? 

Quit worrying about the rules or how it all works, and just write. Thinking ahead to the business of writing and publishing can be detrimental to the creative process. The best writing comes when you are in a playful and relaxed state.  So write first, have fun and worry about the details later.  Also, read as much as you can. Reading helps you become a better writer.


Tracy Line has written columns and feature articles on faith, family, travel and life for nearly two decades.  Her work has been published in over 75 magazines, newspapers, websites and books. A graduate of Hanover College, Line is the author of Chasing God, Finding Faith from the Outside In  (Hawthorne Publishing, 2015).  She is currently working on her second book, and blogs about life and faith at www.tracyline.com.  Outside of writing, Line also enjoys reading, traveling and spending time with her family. 

Connect with Tracy:

Twitter: @thewritertracy

Instagram: @thewritertracy

Facebook:

Written by Rachel Sahaidachny — February 05, 2019

Poet Ross Gay to Headline Indiana Writers Center’s Gathering

 

Ross Gay, poet and National Book Award finalist, will keynote the Indiana Writers Center annual event, Gathering of Writers, “Write Where You Are,” 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Saturday, March 9 at the Indiana State Library, 315 W Ohio St., Indianapolis.

Gay will also lead a three-hour poetry “master class” during the day-long workshops.

Gay says his opening keynote talk will center on “the practice of looking,” meaning “the discipline of attending to one’s own life. This talk will wonder about how such ‘looking’ might open windows,” says Gay, who is a professor at Indiana University.

Gay is the author of three books: Against Which; Bringing the Shovel Down; and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Catalog was also a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry, the Ohioana Book Award, the Balcones Poetry Prize, the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award, and it was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. The Book of Delights, is forthcoming from Algonquin Press in February.

Gay will also teach a three-hour, poetry master class, “Making a Way Together,” for a limited number of participants. Says Gay: “In this three-hour generative poetry workshop, we will stoke our imaginations by (often collaboratively) writing and making a way together, exploring new approaches of looking at our connection to each other and the world.”

This year marks the IWC’s 40th anniversary. Gathering of Writers highlights the best of what the IWC offers experienced and aspiring writers, and provides an atmosphere of camaraderie among individuals who love the written word.

In addition to Gay, there will be sessions in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and playwriting presented by published authors Callista Buchen, Tom Chiarella, Chris Forhan, Kate Gehan, Silas Hansen, Allyson Horton, Angela Jackson-Brown, Saundra Mitchell, and Chris White.

To register online: https://www.indianawriters.org/pages/2019-gathering-of-writers

Participants must register in advance to attend.* All master class registrations include registration for the Gathering.

Early-bird pricing available through January 26:

Members $65

Members + Master Class with Ross Gay $100

Nonmembers $125

Nonmembers + Master Class $175

 

After January 26:

Members $85

Members + Master Class with Ross Gay $125

Nonmembers $150

Nonmembers + Master Class with Ross Gay $200

 

  • Full-time Students are eligible for a discount on registration with a teacher recommendation.

Written by Rachel Sahaidachny — January 18, 2019

Hello Forty! Indiana Writers Center Celebrates 40th Year 1979-2019

In the 1960s and ‘70s, “Free University” instructors brought classes to the masses in Indianapolis — everything from candle-making, to metaphysics, to writing — for free or cheap. The Indiana Writers Center has its roots in this free-wheeling soil, and will mark its 40th anniversary in 2019.

 

In 1979 Jim Powell, who taught workshops for Free U., had a notion that writers in Indianapolis had something to learn from one another and could benefit from their own organization. He and a small group of like-minded writers met for the first time at Broad Ripple Tavern (now The Bungalow) in 1979, giving birth to what is now the Indiana Writers Center.

 

Forty years later—a wealth of stories, novels, poems, essays, articles, nonfiction books, memoirs, and plays inspired by our classes and programs under our belt—the IWC is just getting started!

 

We look forward to launching our Fortieth Anniversary fundraising campaign, and hope that you will give what you can to help ensure sound financial footing as we move into the future.

 

There will be plenty of just-plain-fun celebratory activities, too.

 

A highlight of our anniversary year will be publishing Jim Powell’s story collection, Only Witness. “I look forward to celebrating IWC's 40th will all the energy I can muster!” Powell said.

A book launch and reception for Powell will be held on March 8, at the Circle City Industrial Complex.

 

Other 40th Anniversary plans include:

 

    March 9: The Gathering of Writers at the Indiana State Library, featuring poet Ross Gay, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award and a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Books Critics Circle Award.  Gay teaches at Indiana University.

    Flash Fiction First Fridays: Every first Friday of 2019, featuring fun writing prompts and opportunities to be published in Flying Island.

    May scavenger hunt: Stay tuned for details of an exciting program planned for race month at the CCIC (which once was a factory that produced turbo-charged engines for Indy 500 cars). 

 

“I am very excited about what we have planned for this, our 40th year,” said board president Celeste Williams. “…honoring our history while looking forward to ensuring a bright future.”

 

I agree! And I look forward to celebrating this milestone with all of you.

 

And...

 

We want to hear from you!

 

Share Your IWC Story


Writers, here’s your prompt:
In no more than 150 words, tell us your story about the IWC and why it matters to you.
 
Then...
 
Snap a selfie and post it along with your story on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram...whatever using #writenowIWC or email it to us at iwcstories@indianawriters.org.
 
For fun, write “I’m a [your day job]. I’m also a writer” above your story. We love knowing the richness of experience our students bring to their work.
 
By posting or sending us your story/selfie, you agree to allow the IWC to use it as part of our Fortieth Anniversary promotional campaign.

 

Sincerely,

Barbara Shoup

Executive Director

 

 

Written by Barbara Shoup — January 02, 2019

Writers Finish What They Start - An Interview with Maurice Broaddus


[Photo by WyldStyle Da Producer]


Maurice Broaddus writes short stories and novels for young people and adults. He is a community advocate, and has taught many classes at the Indiana Writers Center. His next class on our schedule is "World Building" on January 26. This class is great for sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction writers. We asked Maurice to share a bit more about his writing processes and inspirations.

 

What was the greatest piece of advice you ever got about writing?

1. Writers finish things. This was something told to me by one of my teachers. He said what separates people who want to write/talk about writing from writers is the fact that writers finish what they start. Where this really helps me is in the fight against “the Shiny”: I constantly battle ditching what I’m working on to run with the latest shiny idea that pops into my head. Every time I have to remind myself that “writers finish things.” And it helps battle the imposter syndrome: did you finish what you started? Yes, then you’re a writer.

2. Your angst won't pay the bills. Sometimes we attach a lot of romance to the idea of being a writer. We have to be inspired. We have to wait on our muse. This “advice” was given to me by my wife during one of my “my muse has left me” sessions as I stared down a blank page. She reminded that my “muse” was now named Deadlines. This was a follow up to our “exposure won’t pay the bills” conversation. (Her other bit of clutch perspective was “you can go to as many conventions as your writing pays for” which helped me not only guard against the temptation to give away my stories early on, but challenge me to only submit to professional markets).

3. Do that $#!+. This was told to me by fellow author, Daniel Jose Older. I was feeling anxious about a project I was working on. It was a novel that was plunging headlong into territories of race, class, and politics. I called up Daniel and that was the advice he gave me. Writers have to be bold and take risks. It can be scary sometimes (which is why it’s good to have friends who can nudge you). In the end, taking those risks, accepting those challenges, only makes you a better writer.

Why do you write?

I write because I have to. There is something in me that compels me to write, to release my ideas into the world, to let go of the stories running around in my head.

What are you working on right now?

-Wrapping up a second draft of an urban fantasy novel that’s “(black) Harry Potter meets Stranger Things.”
-Doing the edits to my forthcoming steampunk novel, Pimp My Airship.
-Working on the sequel to my middle grade novel, The Usual Suspects.
-Starting a science fiction novel that’s “Black Panther meets Game of Thrones … in space.”
-Three short stories, one of which ties into my science fiction novel world.

Favorite books or essays about the craft of writing?

Wonderbook:The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer

Starve Better: Surviving the Endless Horror of the Writing Life by Nick Mamatas

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

What’s your favorite book, or the best book you’ve read recently? What do you love about it?

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. There is a reason why she has dominated all of the fantasy awards for the last few years and why the conversation has started about whether we’re no longer in the age of Tolkien but rather the age of Jemisin. Her worldbuilding, her craft, her prose, her style…each novel is a lesson on writing.

Is there a writer whose work provided new understanding of what fiction writing is, and how it can be written? If so, who and how?

Kelly Link. Each of her short story collections are like labs in writing. She’s my inspiration for why I take short story writing so seriously and as opportunities to experiment with different areas of the craft.

Why do you like teaching at IWC? What do you look forward to about it?

I am always energized by being around other creatives, especially my peers.

Maurice Broaddus has written dozens of short stories, essays, novellas, and articles. His dark fiction has been published in numerous magazines, anthologies, and web sites, most recently including Cemetery Dance, Apex Magazine, Black Static, and Weird Tales Magazine. He is the co-editor of the Dark Faith anthology series (Apex Books). And he’s the author of the Knights of Breton Court trilogy (Angry Robot Books). In his spare time, he sits on the board of Second Story, a non-profit organization whose mission it is to encourage creative writing among elementary school students. He also started the Phoenix Arts Initiative, which encourages use of the arts for at risk youth to express themselves. Visit his site at www.MauriceBroaddus.com.

Or find him on social media:
@MauriceBroaddus on Twitter
Maurice Broaddus on Facebook
@mauricebroaddus on Instagram

 

Written by Rachel Sahaidachny — December 03, 2018

An Author's Site for Writers: StevenPressfield.com by Joe Jansen

Barbara Shoup recently shared Tina Jordan’s New York Times article about the websites of bestselling authors on Facebook. Publishers usually insist, Jordan says, that their novelists maintain a web presence. So she visited the sites of the current bestselling novelists and reported back on the most interesting thing about each one.

We writers might hope to find a few tools or useful tips from these successful novelists. Many of these sites, however, provide not much more than Q&A responses to overworked questions like “Where do your ideas come from?” or “How do you do research?” I couldn’t find any insights into the hard-hitting questions like “Is it better to write with a pen or a pencil?”

One novelist advises the aspiring writer to “read frequently” and “write daily.” Yep, good advice. Another author site shares an essay on lessons learned from a 20-year career in journalism. It was a good essay, when it was first presented at a talk in 2001. What have you done for me lately, mister?

Other sites offer the novelist’s movie reviews, what’s on their music playlists, or favorite pet photos. One author’s site gives descriptive statistics on the incidence of cuss words in his 16 novels. If you want detailed analytics, you can scroll down for line graphs on the frequency of “damns” or “shits” per 1000 words. Not sure how that’s going to help your writing, but it’s there if you need a baseline.

Sure, we can poke fun at frivolous content. But the point seems to be that the novelist is just trying to meet publishers’ demands without cutting too deeply into their writing time. I get it, I do. Time is precious. Novelist Tim O’Brien can’t even be bothered to put on pants when he’s working.

But as writers, do these sites give us tools or insights we can use?

Let me point you to an author site that contains zero fluff and more tools than Home Depot. Let me tell you about Steven Pressfield, and then I’ll tell you what his web site gives us as writers.

WHO IS THIS GUY?



If you’re a moviegoer, you might recognize the film based on Steven Pressfield's first novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance. IMDB will tell you it’s a sports drama. But Bagger is actually a war story from Hindu scripture, only masquerading as a golf story.

In The Bhagavad Gita, the warrior-archer Arjuna (Rannulph “R” Junah) loses his nerve in battle. The deity Bhagavan (Bagger Vance) appears disguised as Arjuna’s lowly charioteer (Junah’s caddy), to help him rediscover his path as warrior and hero – his authentic self.

Pressfield followed Bagger Vance with novels of historical fiction, many of them set in early Greece. Titles like Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae and The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great depict the timeless principles of military leadership so authentically that they’re included in the academic curricula at West Point and the US Naval Academy. His novels appear consistently on the "recommended reading lists” of US Marine Commandants, the Defense Intelligence Agency, US European Command, and of individual generals who post such lists. Passages like this one illustrate why:

“You are the commanders, your men will look to you and act as you do. Let no officer keep to himself or his brother officers, but circulate daylong among his men. Let them see you and see you unafraid. Where there is work to do, turn your hand to it first; the men will follow. Some of you, I see, have erected tents. Strike them at once. We will all sleep as I do, in the open. Keep your men busy. If there is no work, make it up, for when soldiers have time to talk, their talk turns to fear. Action, on the other hand, produces the appetite for more action.”
-- Gates of Fire, the Spartan Leonidas to his officers in preparation for battle at Thermopylae, 480 BC

His other novels feature the female warriors we call the Amazons in 1250 BC, commandos of the Long-Range Desert Group in World War II North Africa, and mercenaries in a near-future thriller where military contractors have replaced national armies.

Pressfield has authored as many nonfiction titles as he has fiction. The Lion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War is a narrative of courage under fire as the State of Israel fought to survive in 1967.

His 2011 The Warrior Ethos draws on stories of leadership and courage from Herodotus and Plutarch and Thucydides and Homer. Pressfield printed 20,000 copies at his own expense and distributed them to any active duty military unit or veterans group that wanted them. His publicist and business partner Callie Oettinger even provided 100 copies to a guy like me, to share with fellow veterans at the company where I worked.

Pressfield is respected as much for his books on the creative process as he is the military fiction and nonfiction. Titles like Do the Work, Turning Pro, and The Authentic Swing, examine the struggles and pain of creativity and finding your authentic voice. His widely read The War of Art (a play on the title of Sun Tzu's classic) is a navigational aid for understanding Resistance and procrastination and self-doubt, and a map for busting through. Jay McInerney thinks enough of The War of Art to put his endorsement on the cover, and story-structure master Robert McKee wrote the book’s forward.

SO WHAT ABOUT HIS WEBSITE?

While other authors might share a FAQ or an essay, Pressfield has been posting his “Writing Wednesdays” column on his site every week for nearly 10 years. In essays with titles like “Lawrence of Arabia’s Motorcycle” or “Give Your Villain a Great Villain Speech” or “The Female Carries the Mystery,” he shares his insights on story structure and battling creative demons and understanding deep archetypes and the hero’s journey. He pulls examples from films we’ve seen and books we’ve read and helps us shine some light on the things that are right in front of us, waiting for us to see them for ourselves.

He’s honest about his own creative battles, and how having a raft of published work does NOT exempt a writer from struggles with the demons of Resistance. In his “Report From the Trenches” series, he’ll share what it was like to send a draft manuscript to his editor Shawn Coyne. He'll be up-front about the gut-twisting despair, the “Kubler-Ross experience,” of getting Shawn's response – 15 single-spaced pages that detailed everything that was NOT working with this manuscript.

(Seth Godin, Steven Pressfield, and Shawn Coyne from the Story Grid workshop - used by permission)


Do you sometimes feel lost as a writer? Overwhelmed, fearful, or plagued with the dread of inadequacy? Pressfield doesn’t hold your hand, but he lets you know you’re not alone. In his columns, he addresses “us writers.” He brings you and me into his foxhole and speaks to us as equals. He offers encouragement and insight to any of us willing to “put our asses where our hearts want to be” and “do the work.”


In “Writing Wednesdays,” he'll go so far as to serialize a forthcoming work of non-fiction in its entirety – just because he wants you to have it. I refer to the 2018 title, The Artist's Journey: The Wake of the Hero's Journey and the Lifelong Pursuit of Meaning.

His readers are likely to purchase a hard copy for their shelves, never mind they’ve been gifted a chapter a week. Me? I’ve bought and given away as many of his books as I’ve got on my shelves.

Then you have his business partners Callie Oettinger and Shawn Coyne, publicist and editor, respectively. Callie and Shawn divvy up Friday’s “What It Takes” column. In posts like “Hemingway Did Not Non-Summit,” Callie encourages us not to just "hold meetings at base camp" and TALK about summiting (stopping with the workshops and writing seminars). She says: “Climb the mountain. Don’t stop at the base. Your words are your oxygen.”

When Shawn takes his turn at “What It Takes,” his columns draw on his 25 years of publishing experience, editing or representing authors like James Lee Burke, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, David Mamet, Robert McKee – and Steven Pressfield.

Shawn’s own site is a treasure chest of resources for writers. You’ll find sheets that break down The Silence of the Lambs and Pride and Prejudice scene-by-scene according to his “Story Grid” methodology. He deconstructs each scene’s word count, the main action, the value shift, and other structural detail. It’s like X-ray vision for the writer who wants to see clearly into what makes a story work.

His site’s Resources tab offers his Editor’s Roundtable podcast: discussions among professional editors on the genre conventions and story structure for films like “Get Out,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Adaptation.” The site offers other podcasts, articles, and a free five-part Story Grid course. You’ll find premium resources and online classes, as well as contract professional editing services.

NO FLUFF

There’s certainly demand for web sites that help readers get to know their favorite authors: trivia, recipes, or what music the author can’t live without.

Writers can also find author’s sites that give them what they need: tools and insights into archetypes, narrative structure, and what makes a story work.


Steve will tell you that stories exist out there in some near dimension, waiting to be born into this world, with the Muse as a midwife. We can be part of it, those of us willing to put our asses where our hearts want to be, those of us willing to do the work.

Find it all at stevenpressfield.com.

 



Joe Jansen’s work has appeared in Arts Indiana Magazine, Shore Magazine, Muzzle Blasts, Muzzleloader, and American Rifleman. As an editor at IDG Books, he edited over 60 titles in the “…For Dummies” reference series and was a contributing author to PCs for Kids & Parents. You can find him at joejansen.blogspot.com.

 

Written by Rachel Sahaidachny — November 27, 2018

Instructor Profile: Luke Wortley

Luke Wortley's class Re-visiting the pyramid: Examining traditional and alternative narrative structures in prose is scheduled for Thursday, November 15, 6:30 p.m.

Why do you write?

I write because I feel like I have no choice. There have been plenty of versions of me over the years, and the ones that include large periods where I was not writing have all been unequivocally worse versions than the ones that include me actively engaging in the process of writing, even if it wasn’t producing words on a daily basis.

What are you working on right now?

I’m always writing stories and flash in various stages of completion and abandonment, but right now I’m working on a novel set in a fictionalized, rural county in Kentucky, a sort of exaggerated facsimile of where I was raised. It originally started as my MFA thesis, but I really wasn’t happy with the way it turned out upon graduation, but this book wouldn’t get out of my head. Nearly three years later, I still found myself writing anecdotes about the characters, jotting down thousands of words on the geography, making stacks of index cards for plot points. As such, I dug it back out in recent months, wholesale excised the bits I didn’t like, and started writing the story I really wanted to tell. I hope the process will be cathartic as I explore the impact of generational toxic masculinity in the rural South, how it interacts with the blood-soaked earth resting so precariously on the porous limestone bedrock.

Favorite books or essays about the craft of writing?

I found Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose was a super formative book for me during my first year of the MFA at Butler. Read it. I read a lot of interviews throughout the literary world, and I definitely recommend subscribing to the Lit Hub daily newsletter, as they do a lot of the hard work for you by aggregating interviews, essays, and reviews.

What’s your favorite book, or the best book you’ve read recently? What do you love about it?

Woof. I guess the book that really changed my perception of what literature could be was The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, as completely and utterly cliché as that sounds. It was my first introduction into a truly modernist text and so drastically warped what I thought plot, character, and structure could be, and reading it for the first time was simultaneously a heartrending earthquake of sadness and a cognitive thrill. All this long before I even thought about trying my own hand at writing.

More recently, I have to give major props to How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee, a collection of essays that took my heart into a velvet storm of language and out the other side fundamentally altered.

Is there a writer whose work provided new understanding of what fiction writing is, and how it can be written? If so, who and how?

I’m evangelical about the work of Karen Russell. Her story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves was so utterly instrumental in my development as a writer. My undergraduate degree is in Spanish, and I’d encountered a lot of the giants of Latin American literature, especially the Boom writers of the late 20th century that redefined surrealism as a political act – otherwise known as magical realism. I’d tried unsuccessfully to mimic their work; however, lacking any real political context, the work was merely imaginative and not much else. Russell’s work showed me how you could show the world as a wildly off-kilter place that’s hidden in plain sight, how the insides of a conch shell are just as valid a window into the human imagination, our fragile, juvenile selves as Macondo. I’m also still miffed that Swamplandia! didn’t win her the Pulitzer, even though Train Dreams by Denis Johnson was truly remarkable as well.

What was the greatest piece of advice you ever got about writing?

So, in staying true to my brand, I’ll just say that process-oriented axioms always turn me inside out in the worst way possible. I guess, in my experience, writing advice tends to oscillate between two extremes – either overly prescriptive to suggest some kind of formalism for “success” or overly obtuse to the point of being completely nebulous. For me, I will say the single most psychologically damaging piece of writing-related advice I have ever received and continue to receive is any iteration of “write every day.”

I just find that, for many amateur writers like myself, there is already too much guilt associated with writing and not writing. Especially the not part. The reason the “write every day” billboards, even the more conciliatory versions that include some provision for “…even if it’s only for 15 minutes,” have been such a destructive force for me in the past is that it in and of itself turns into a measuring stick. Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of folks who can make their writing time sacrosanct on a daily basis; I’m just not one of those people. In my experience, very few of us writerly types are. Sure, there will always be a little voice that browbeats you for having other obligations and eviscerates an otherwise good, productive day because you didn’t squeeze in a few words. However, when you measure your success or failure as a writer by consecutive days of butt-in-chair time, it can create a very dangerous feedback loop if you miss even one day. This is especially true if there’s an added layer of “just for 15 minutes” because there’s this extra self-flagellation that you couldn’t even do that, which slows momentum for the next attempt, which leads to anxiety, which in turn makes us lock up even more.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that, frankly, the best piece of writing advice I’ve received is that it’s okay to give yourself a break and to understand that writing requires a commensurate amount of rest that’s determined by that person’s stamina during any given period of time. I love the “write every day” crowd because they motivate me to strive for something more consistent, but I also know that my brain doesn’t run with a predictable emotional and intellectual bandwidth every day, at least not at this point in my life. Yours might not either. That’s okay. Do all the things that keep your desire sharp instead. Read, journal, think incessantly about writing and reading, talk about it, pick and pull at old sentences. Write when you’re ready.

Why do you like teaching at IWC? What do you look forward to about it?

When you’re in undergraduate and graduate school, it’s easy to forget just how fulfilling it is to be around people who eat, sleep, breathe, and talk about the same esoterica as you. It’s really easy to conveniently forget the end will come, and there will be a finite point in your life where there was a before and an after… a time when you’re immersed in such creativity, such a preponderance of openness followed by weeks on end of seemingly no contact with anyone that’s read anything resembling a book in years. The IWC allows folks like us who crave that creativity and openness to have a safe space to genuflect at the altar of carefully chosen words.

 Website and social media info:

www.lukewortley.com

@LukeWortley

When Luke was a kid, he wanted to be an interventional radiologist. After several concussions, he forgot calculus and figured out he loved words instead. He has a B.A. in Spanish from Wright State University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Butler University, where he was the former fiction editor at Booth: A Journal and the student editor of Pressgang. 

Currently, he works for the Indiana Rural Health Association as a grant writer and program coordinator helping alleviate health disparities for underserved populations; he also teaches Latin American History as an adjunct professor at Butler University.

His poem, “Reparations” was a finalist for the 2016 Lascaux Prize in Poetry. His flash fiction and short stories have appeared in Inch, Cleaver, New Limestone Review, and elsewhere. He is currently at work on a novel set in his native Kentucky.

Written by Rachel Sahaidachny — November 06, 2018

Writing Quality Fiction, and the Hard Work of Being a Writer: An Interview with Robert Kent

Robert Kent's Fiction Writing Workshop begins Sunday, October 21, 5 p.m.
Other workshops include: Writing the Horror Novel, The Basics of Self-Publishing, and Finishing Your First Novel (and your second).

What was the greatest piece of advice you ever got about writing?

The greatest advice about writing I ever got was actually bad advice. I won’t name the writer who gave it to me, but he’s a big deal, award-winning author whose work I greatly admire.

He taught a fiction workshop here in Indianapolis years and years ago. He gave me advice for how to “fix” my story that I didn’t agree with. In fact, his criticism led me to discover a better revision (so often this is the real value of constructive suggestions). But because he was a big deal author and I was a newbie, I rewrote my story his way.

Nobody published the story during that round of submissions because it still didn’t work and when I turned the story into another workshop, they hated it whereas the previous workshop had loved it. I revised it again, my way this time, for a third workshop and they loved it.

In addition to learning that quality fiction requires a whole lot of revision and hard work, I learned that no author, however many awards they win, has all the answers. This writer went on to write more stories and win more awards. He gave me lots of other advice that worked very well and taught me a lot about the craft.

And by giving me bad advice he taught me that there’s no one guaranteed approach to writing. We’re all of us figuring this out as we go.

Why do you write?

Because I can’t not write and no one’s stopped me yet. I’ve taken extended breaks from writing, but it calls me and I can never resist the urge for longer than a few weeks.

I tell every student that if they can imagine themselves being happy doing something other than writing, they should go do that thing and be free :) But if, like me, they have to write, they may as well master every technique they can employ to do it well.

What are you working on right now?

I’m polishing the final version of Banneker Bones and the Alligator People, the second book in my middle grade science-fiction series to be published in 2019, and—mild spoiler, I suppose—I’m drafting Banneker’s third adventure.

I’m also doing research for another adult horror novel I hope to write if I ever finish my middle grade books. Writing for younger readers is so much more challenging than writing for adults.

Favorite books or essays about the craft of writing?

I believe the most important book on writing I’ve ever read is Story by Robert McKee. That book changes lives. Grock its fullness. I reread Story every couple years to keep the information fresh and I got a little teary-eyed when the great Robert McKee liked one of my tweets.

Also very good are On Writing by Stephen KingStein on Editing by Sol Stein, and The Indie Author Survival Guide by Susan Kaye Quinn.

And writers should definitely check out Middle Grade Ninja, not just because it’s my website, but because it features interviews with better writers than me, literary agents, and other industry professionals, many of whom have also written guest posts on the craft of writing.

What’s your favorite book, or the best book you’ve read recently? What do you love about it?

I could never pick an absolute favorite, but some contenders for the top spot are The Witches by Roald Dahl, The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling, and It by Stephen King.

Is there a writer whose work provided new understanding of what fiction writing is, and how it can be written? If so, who and how?

I think every piece of fiction I read changes my understanding of fiction writing at least a little, especially the stories that are badly written since they teach me what not to do. One book I read recently illustrated a clear issue in my newest project. Because I saw this poor author mess up, I knew how to fix my story. This is the importance of writers reading: it’s like watching people walk into booby traps in the path ahead of you.

One book I can think of that sparked a debate in my mind I’m still arguing to this day even though I read it when I was a teenager is I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. That book is objectively brilliant and well constructed. It has a singular message and it effectively delivers its shock to the reader and more people have enjoyed it than have ever read anything I’ve written.

And yet, I think it’s too short. Matheson is depicting the end of the world due to vampires, and he barely slows down to enjoy it.  There are no long suspense sequences or horrifying moments other than the establishment of his premise and the execution of his admittedly brilliant literary thesis: the last of the human race would be a legend to a new race of “monsters.” Bravo, sir, well done (kisses fingers and blows on them).

And yet, I would’ve spent more time with the vampires and made more use of the fantastic premise, rather than treating the book as an equation with a solution. I Am Legend could’ve easily been a series or at least a longer book with more vampire action. It’s not that Matheson was wrong (blaspheme!). But his story showed me what sort of writer I want to be. All fiction is an author’s preference (hopefully taking into account the reader’s as well), and so it’s essential to read widely to form your own writer’s preference, so you can know the sort of stories you like and want to write.

Why do you like teaching at IWC? What do you look forward to about it?

Teaching a subject is the best way to really learn it on a deeper level. Running writing workshops at the IWC in which the participants email each other every day for five weeks to state what writing they did or failed to do keeps me accountable as well, so that we all hit our writing goals. If the students fall short, I still hit my daily word count due to the pressure of leading the group, so I win either way:)

And it’s been enormously gratifying to hear from students who’ve published their first books after taking one of my courses.  I love giving writers the information I wish someone had given to me when I was starting out.

I’ve also convinced some would-be writers that they’re much happier as readers after trying out the writer’s lifestyle as writing is really, really hard. What a tremendous service I’ve provided these students! If they can be free of the notion that they need to write and enjoy the rest of their lives without carrying the guilt of not writing, I’ve done good in the world. 

Website and Social Media info:

Middlegradeninja.com

@MGNinja

Facebook.com/middle.gradeninja

Amazon.com

Robert Kent is the author of the horror novels The Book of David and All Together Now: A Zombie Story, and the novellas Pizza Delivery and All Right Now: A Short Zombie Story

Under the name Rob Kent, he writes middle grade novels such as Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees and the upcoming Banneker Bones and the Alligator People.

He runs the popular blog for writers, MIDDLE GRADE NINJA, which features interviews and guest posts from over 500 authors, literary agents, and other publishing professionals, and was the recipient of Middle Shelf Magazine's Best Blog award. Robert Kent holds degrees in Literature and Creative Writing from Indiana University and owns over 900 Batman action figures. He lives with his family in Indianapolis where he teaches courses at the Indiana Writers Center and is hard at work on his next book.

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Written by Rachel Sahaidachny — October 12, 2018

Meet an Author, Be an Author at the Central Library

 

We're providing a day full of free writing classes, programs and panels at "Meet an Author, Be an Author" presented by The Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award and The Indianapolis Public Library.

10:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Central Library
40 East St. Clair Street
Downtown Indianapolis

FREE and open to the public 

Presenters include: John David Anderson, Nancy Niblack Baxter, Ray E. Boomhower, Maurice Broaddus, Curtis Crisler, Helen Frost, Devon Ginn, Allyson Horton, Angela Jackson-Brown, Robert Kent, Sarah Layden, Tracy Line, Sandy Sasso, Barbara Shoup, Robert Stapleton, and Delores Thornton.

Topics include Get Started, Children's Literature, Self-Publishing, Writing about Your Life, and Show Don't Tell. Panelists will also discuss editing, and the writing life.

For all the details visit the Meet and Author, Be an Author page.

Written by Barbara Shoup — October 12, 2018

SJ Rozan to visit Indiana Writers Center

SJ Rozan is visiting Indianapolis for the Magna Cum Murder Crime Writing Festival, and she is stopping at the IWC to teach a class before she leaves. You can join Rozan for the writing workshop, "Plot and Story: What is the Difference, and How Do You Make Them Happen?" on Sunday, October 21, 2018, 2-4:30 p.m.

We asked Rozan to answer a few questions, in preparation for her visit:

What was the greatest piece of advice you ever got about writing?

Don't ever save anything for a better place in this book or a better book. If something came to you now there's a reason. These things bubble up like water in a well -- if you don't take off what's on the top you won't get anything  else.  (Paraphrasing Annie Dillard, THE WRITING LIFE)

Why do you write?

I keep thinking of stories I want to tell.

What are you working on right now?

A thriller with a young female protagonist who's an actor and an adrenaline junkie. She's a fixer -- you have a problem, Lily Lee will fix it. Just don't ask how.

Favorite books or essays about the craft of writing?

Annie Dillard, THE WRITING LIFE

Lawrence Block, TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT

What’s your favorite book, or the best book you’ve read recently? What do you love about it?

The book that got me started as a writer was Howard Pyle's ROBIN HOOD when I was 10. I was so sad that I was almost at the end, and my mother said, Well, maybe he'll write more. And I thought, Wait, someone wrote this? A person? People can write stories other people want to read? It was a revelation.

Is there a writer whose work provided new understanding of what fiction writing is, and how it can be written? If so, who and how?

Recently I read George Saunders's LINCOLN IN THE BARDO. The coalescing of the huge number of different voices into the same story -- it knocked me out.

Why do you like teaching at IWC? What do you look forward to about it?

The students come from such different backgrounds and are at such different levels but they're all so serious about wanting to write and they work so hard!

Where to find SJ Rozan:

www.sjrozan.net

https://www.facebook.com/AuthorSJRozan/

https://twitter.com/SJRozan

https://www.instagram.com/sjrozan/

SJ Rozan is the author of fifteen novels and more than 75 short stories, and the editor of two anthologies. She has won multiple awards, including the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, Macavity; Japanese Maltese Falcon; and the Private Eye Writers of America Life Achievement Award. She speaks and lectures widely, at such venues as the 92nd Street Y and the Center for Fiction. SJ has been a Master Artist at The Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida, Writer-in-Residence at Singapore Management University, and is a senior faculty member at Art Workshop International in Assisi, Italy.

SJ was born in the Bronx and lives in lower Manhattan. 

Written by Rachel Sahaidachny — October 08, 2018


© Indiana Writers Center 2012