An Author's Site for Writers: 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.


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.


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.


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


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


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:


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:


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.


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?



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:

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

Break Out: Voices from the Inside, September 10, 2018

The Indiana Writers Center held “Breakout: Voices From the Inside” in partnership with PEN America on Monday, September 10, 2018 from 7-9 PM. Though the audience was small, all who attended, including the readers, agreed that they were moved by the presentation, which included work by PEN Prison Writing Contest winners, people incarcerated in the Indiana prison system, and Jeremy Richard, who is incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, LA. Poems by Indiana poet Etheridge Knight, as well as poems by Reginald Dwayne Betts, who made it out of prison and are an inspiration to all of us. The work was read without interruption, as a program gave biographical information about writers and readers.

The program was as follows:

“Cell Song” by Etheridge Knight
Read by JL Kato

“discovery after twenty years in prison” by Sean J. White
Second Place, Poetry, PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by Karen Kovacik

“My Mind” by Dave
Read by Debra Des Vignes

“Five Haiku Plus Two” by Geneva J. Philips
Honorable Mention, Poetry, PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by Devon Ginn

“This Poem” by Etheridge Knight
Read by Celeste Williams

An excerpt from the writing of Jeremy Richard
Read by Barbara Shoup

“Going Forward with Gus” by Sterling Cunio
Second Place, Essay, PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by Michael McColly

“Break Free” by Brandon
Read by Debra Des Vignes

“Fragment of a Dream” by Gary K. Farlow
Honorable Mention, Poetry, PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by JL Kato

“The Idea of Ancestry” by Etheridge Knight
Read by Angela Jackson Brown

“The Storm” by  Edward Ji
Honorable Mention, Poetry, PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by Celeste Williams

“Remembrance” by Foosie
Read by Debra Des Vignes

“Grace Notes” by Matthew Mendoza
First Place, Poetry, PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by JL Kato

An excerpt from the writing of Jeremy Richard
Read by Barbara Shoup

“At a VA Hospital” by Etheridge Knight
Read by Devon Ginn

“Only Human” by Daniel
Read by Debra DesVignes

“Regret’s Tragic Romance” by Annmarie Harris-Romero
Honorable Mention, Nonfiction PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by Angela Jackson Brown

“The Glitter Squirrel in Me” by Elizabeth Hawes
Third Place, Poetry, PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by Rachel Sahaidachny

“Dimensions” by Albert
Read by Debra Des Vignes

“The Swallow War” by St. James Harris Wood
First Place, Essay, PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by Michael McColly

“Ode to a Kite” by Reginald Dwayne Betts
Read by Karen Kovacik



Read an excerpt of "The Swallow War" by St. James Harris Wood

After fifteen years down, I assume that prison life can't get any more off-kilter or annoying; but then, some cruel functionary starts a war against the local swallows. Each early dawn and during the fading light of dusk I love to watch the hardy little birds hurtling in tandem by the hundreds, coasting and whipping around the sky, exercising or herding bugs maybe, or perhaps just flying for the joy of it. I enjoy it, watching their huge swarm, a thousand strong, wheeling around like drunken feathered acrobats, breathtaking and beautiful as they pursue and eradicate every bee, fly, mosquito, moth, and whatever else is in the air and smaller than the hungry little assassins. Watching the sparrows is better than tv or pinochle and has the distinct bouquet of freedom.

In the hills surrounding my home, the California Men's Colony, dwell macabre flying spiders who contrive to get to the top of our absurdly high (50 yards) light towers. The ambitious spiders lay thousands of eggs up there, and when the babies hatch, windy days are a signal for them to make web kites, and all at once the entire spider congregation takes off, mostly to be killed and eaten by the swallows, thank God; but last year the flying baby spiders launched themselves while the sparrows were off somewhere else, having heard of special mud for their nests in another county. The spiders spread across the sky, the yard, all over the buildings and grass, landing on our clothes and hair for an hour, until finally the sparrows returned home. It was a scene, or more properly an outburst of nature (a tantrum?) to see a thousand swallows dodging about en masse, performing maneuvers, eradicating the remaining spiders, still aloft. The baby spiders take it stoically as a countless number of their comrades had made it to the ground before the massacre. Like everyone, I can't help but wonder how the swallows manage to perform their complicated mass dance and aerial gyrations—spinning, swirling, churning, clouds of feathers and grace so unlike our clumsy human world—without ever crashing into each other and falling to the ground like Icarus, or me.

These American Cliff Swallows have been coming to San Luis Obispo for a thousand years, flying up from Goya, Argentina (if we are to believe them), and once here they frantically, industriously search out little globs of mud and build nests that resemble tiny brown desert igloos. The prison is smack dab in the middle of the little birds' centuries old customary nesting grounds. Figuring that we've placed the prison here for their convenience, the swallows build their nests in the infrastructure of the steel girders—imagine a bridge built in a square with all the little caches, tiny lairs, and small dens that three stories of steel beams offer. This singular edifice sits in the center of the prison; it's open air and we call it the plaza. There are a couple of trees, some sickly grass, and a 100 yard circular sidewalk in the plaza connecting our four yards. All the cops, free staff, and convicts (around 3,000 people) march through it to work, to school, to the library, and everywhere else we are compelled to go during the day, from four in the morning until around ten at night. Right above the sidewalk is the metal structure with its niches, nooks, and crannies—about every four-five inches—where the swallows build their nests, and there are a couple thousand of these spaces in the plaza. It is a wonderfully odd and happenstance open air aviary—except of course for the barbed wire and incarceration. The swallows are free and the humans are trapped. As we walk back and forth beneath their nests to school and work, the swallows, who apparently aren't afraid of humans, stare grumpily at us, trespassing in their prison.

For nine years I've watched the whole process: birds arrive, build nests like tiny lunatic construction crews, at dawn and dusk they twirl and swirl through the sky (often feinting and mock fighting for obscure reasons), and conveniently patrol our little valley and eat countless bugs. Out here in the near wilderness there are bugs galore and I am grateful that the mosquitoes, midges, and spiders are dealt such a blow, the swallows keeping them from my flesh. They have to maintain their high pitched metabolisms, fuel up for all the precise turbulent aerial displays, and when the time comes, feed their fledglings. Eggs are laid and the mock fighting increases as they defend their nests from imaginary threats. Soon (two weeks), frighteningly tiny swallows are hatched, mindlessly cheeping for bugs and whatever else is on the menu.

A bit more info about the program and those involved in Nuvo, "Indiana Writers Center Highlights Prison Writing."

Presented by Indiana Writers Center in partnership with PEN America


Written by Rachel Sahaidachny — October 08, 2018

2018 Gathering of Writers-Yes, we are here at the Indiana State Library. Please join us!

Story, Poem, Essay:  Which Door Will You Choose

Whether you think of yourself as a poet, fiction writer, or essayist, sometimes you have an idea that just doesn’t seem to fit into the usual genre. Or maybe you’d like to take a break from the usual and try something new with an idea begging for words. Fiction writer and essayist Susan Neville will explore new ways to think about your ideas that will enrich your creative process and expand your understanding of what your material might become in her keynote address, “Poem, Story, or Essay: Which Door to Choose?”

Join us at the Indiana State Library when Indiana's best established and emerging writers will meet for a full day of classes on the writing craft.  Sessions in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction will be presented by nine accomplished Indiana writers, including Nancy Botkin, Jill Christman, Curtis Crisler, Angela Jackson-Brown, Sarah Layden, Sean Lovelace, Mark Neely, Kelcey Parker-Ervick and Barbara Shoup.  You’ll leave full of inspiration, armed with writing drafts ripe for experimentation—along with a hundred other writers who feel the same way. 

Gathering Location and Parking

Susan Neville is the author of four works of creative nonfiction: Indiana Winter, Fabrication: Essays on Making Things and making Meaning; Twilight in Arcadia; Iconography: A Writer’s Meditation and Sailing the Inland Sea. Her prize-winning collections of short fiction include In the House of Blue Lights, winner of the Richard Sullivan Prize and Invention of Flight, winner of the Flanner O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. Her stories have appeared in the Pushcart Prize Anthology and in other anthologies, including Extreme Fiction and The Story Behind the Story. Recent stories and essays have appeared or will appear in The Southwest Review, The Missouri Review, The Collagist, Diagram, and Image. She lives in Indianapolis and is the Demia Professor of English at Butler University.


$80 Members / $150 Nonmembers

Full-time Students (with ID) are eligible for a discounted registration. They may be requested with a teacher recommendation. Email 

Lunch will be guaranteed for all attendees who pre-register by 03/21/2018.
(Please brown bag your lunch, if you decide to register after this date.  We will not be buying extra meals this year.)


Gathering of Writers Refund Policy


If you need more encouragement, read what attendees had to say about the 2017 Gathering of Writers.

Thank you to our 2018 Sponsors:




Written by Roxanna Santoro — February 28, 2018

Writers Center to Host Reporters Who Exposed USA Gymnastics Scandal

The Indiana Writers Center (IWC) will host a public discussion with the team of investigative journalists from The Indianapolis Star who uncovered decades of sexual abuse in a series, “Out of Balance” — reporting that ultimately led to the conviction Dr. Larry Nassar and the resignations of officials whose actions and inaction enabled the continued abuse of dozens of female athletes.

Funded by a grant from the PEN America’s Press Freedom Incentive Fund, and in partnership with the Arthur M. Glick JCC, “In the Balance: Press Freedom & the Public Good in the USA Gymnastics Investigation,” will take place 7-9 p.m., March 22 at the Arthur M. Glick JCC, Laikin Auditorium, 6701 Hoover Road, Indianapolis.

John Krull, chairman of Franklin College’s Journalism Department and host of the WFYI show, “No Limits,” will moderate the panel, featuring Mark Alesia, Tim Evans and Marisa Kwiatkowski, the Indianapolis Star journalists who investigated and wrote the stories about widespread sexual abuse in the USA Gymnastics organization.

Other panelists include Steve Berta, editor for the series, Robert Scheer, visual journalist, and Gerry Lanosga, professor of journalism at Indiana University.

The Star’s investigation began in 2016. It provided the first comprehensive look at the pervasiveness of the abuse in gymnastics, revealing that at least 368 gymnasts had alleged sexual abuse over the past 20 years. As a result of the team’s reporting, Nassar, former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor, will serve a minimum of 125 years in prison up to a maximum of 275 years, after more than 150 women and girls said in court that he sexually abused them over two decades.

The series was among the top award winners in the 2016 Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE) contest, which recognizes the best watchdog journalism of the year. Reverberations from the scandal continue. The entire leadership of Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics resigned, and institutions such as Michigan State University and the United States Olympic Committee have been accused of mishandling complaints.

The series also resulted in proposed national legislation addressing the reporting of abuse.

Barbara Shoup, executive director of the IWC, said the PEN America Press Freedom Incentive Fund grant is designed to stimulate programs, projects, events and activities that will mobilize local communities around press freedom advocacy.

Panelists will discuss the origin of the series and how it developed, addressing such issues as First Amendment issues, obstacles encountered, ethical concerns, and the role of investigative journalism in an environment in which mainstream media is often attacked as “fake news.”

The national grant is a first for the IWC, a small Indianapolis non-profit organization dedicated to writers and writing. For more than 30 years, the organization has offered classes in poetry, fiction, nonfiction and playwriting. It also publishes anthologies of Indiana authors, and books highlighting the voices of individuals whose voices aren’t often heard.

Shoup said she hopes that the panel discussion will not only address the public policy and press issues, but will also highlight a goal of community outreach of the IWC. The organization not only advocates for freedom of expression, press freedom and the power of the written word, but advocates for those at the margins.

To that end, as part of the PEN grant, the IWC will develop writing classes during the weeks following the panel discussion that will explore some of the issues of abuse and trauma brought out in the IndyStar investigation. Writers will also be introduced to some of the “tools” of journalism useful to any writer.

For more information about “In the Balance,” call 317-255-0710 or email

Free Tickets available through Eventbrite:

Written by Roxanna Santoro — February 26, 2018

"The Write Life: making the cut in Indiana publishing"

"I write from my heart, for myself-the only way I know how to write. Writing novels is a way of looking "sideways" at the joys, sorrows, fears, regrets, and unanswerable questions of my own life. It's a way of living more than one life: imagining the inside of my head, I see a circle of doors, each one with the whole life of a novel behind it. Mine." 

Barb Shoup Signature

If you go here, you can read the feature article in Nuvo "The Write Life: making the cut in Indiana publishing" online.

Written by Roxanna Santoro — June 04, 2016

Being an Emerging Playwright by Andrew Black

Being an emerging playwright is hard.  Very Hard.

If you are an emerging musician, you can write a new piece of music at your piano and then invite friends over to your house and play it for them.

If you are a visual artist, you can go into your garage, put paint on a canvas and then show it to people and see what they think.

If you are a new playwright, and you write a 30-minute one act with five characters, you have to know five reasonably talented actors who are all available at the same time, have a place that is big enough to accommodate a cast of five and at least five of your friends if you want to experience your own work in a very minimalistic setting.

If you want to see a real production of your 30-minute play, good luck!  You have to find a theater company which is willing to invest in new work and has a space, and some design professionals (costume, director, set design) in order to experience your creation.  And you find that very few theaters (which work on shoestring budgets anyway) are willing to work with you on your project.

That is why the Indiana Writers Center (IWC) in its partnership with Indy Fringe is so important for emerging playwrights.  The Indiana Writers Center provides a setting where playwrights can take a playwriting class.  In these classes, professional actors come and read new work at no charge. The playwrights can re-write based on what they learn.  Professional theater companies partner with the IWC to help develop work through low-cost staged readings (rehearsals and blocking, but no sets, costumes or props).

Finally, Indy Fringe offers festivals where playwrights can see and experience fully realized workshop productions of their own plays, complete with stage, basic set pieces, and an audience.

This year (2016), DIVAFEST features workshop productions of plays by eight emerging playwrights who have come up through this IWC/Indy Fringe connection.  (April 1-April 10)

The next week (April 15-16), The Short, Sharp and Twisted play festival features work by six additional emerging playwrights, four of whom are having their first-ever production of a play.

When you come to DIVAFEST or Short, Sharp and Twisted, you are supporting a process which is making life easier for the emerging playwright in Central Indiana.  Much Easier.

Andrew Black has an MFA from Ohio University’s School of Theatre, where he was the recipient of the prestigious Trisolini Fellowship. His first full-length play Porn Yesterday (co-written with Patricia Milton) has been produced across the country. Since that play reached the stage, it has been a non-stop, full-on adventure! Many productions of short plays and full-lengths followed. Now in Indianapolis, Indiana, Andrew has developed a full playwriting curriculum for the Indiana Writers Center, and is on the teaching staff of the Indiana Repertory Theater and the Young Actors Theater. He is currently developing a one act play, Iceberg, and has a short play in the upcoming Phoenix Theater Holiday Show. Strange Bedfellows (co-written with Patricia Milton) will be produced in Indianapolis in 2016 by Khaos Company Theater.


Written by Barbara Shoup — April 04, 2016

© Indiana Writers Center 2012