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Retreat to the Springs! will be offered Aug. 2 to 4, 2019, in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Maddie James, romance writer and indie publisher, is one of the faculty members for the retreat. Here we get to know her a little better.

Romance writer Maddie James

Maddie James

 

 

Q: What made you choose your genre(s)?

 

Honestly, the genre chose me! It took hold of an 11-year-old girl who cried inconsolably after Rhett told Scarlett, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” That day, this girl vowed that every story here and evermore deserved a happily-ever-after ending. Besides, I grew up kissing my pillow. Writing romance was a given.

 

Q: What do you consider to be the first meaningful things you wrote? (For example, I had a poem published in a national magazine when I was 10. I then wrote my autobiography when I was 12, but my mother said no one would buy it until I had done something meaningful. I then wrote a “Nancy Drew” book the next year. Even though I’ve published nine books, those three things are what stick in my mind.)

 

Probably the note I wrote to my kids’ teacher explaining why I didn’t agree with her philosophy about how my kid should choose a book from the library. It was poetic and oh-so-convincing but I’m pretty sure said kid lost the note on the way to school. Sigh.

 

Q:  Is there anything you wish you had not written?

 

Yes. A couple of Op-Ed pieces. I did learn a couple of valuable lessons though by writing them — the pen is powerful and be ready to back up what you wrote to your family.

 

Q: Do you read your books after they’re published?

 

I read my emails after I push send. What do you think?

 

Q: How do you feel about self-publishing? It has lost a lot of the stigma of “vanity” publishing.

 

I could write for a day on this topic. I’m totally independently published these days, so I am pro — but only if you know what you are doing, and not saying one should self-publishing exclusively. There are a lot of considerations. Self-publishing and vanity publishing, by the way, and as you likely know, are two very different things. I could go into the differences here but will spare you. 🙂  (maybe in the workshop?)

 

Q: From when you first started seriously pitching your first book, how long did it take to be picked up?

 

Ten years. Ten very long years. From 1986 to 1996. It was a different era in publishing. I wrote my first complete manuscript on an electric typewriter. Think about that.

 

Q: What is your writing routine? Do you have one?

 

I still work a day job but I work from home so there is that. My fiction writing happens between 5 and 8 a.m. every day of the week. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, I could go longer. In the evenings, after the day job ends (where I also write) I work on other “writer stuff.”

 

Q: If you didn’t write in your genre, what would you be writing?

 

I write in several romance subgenres — from suspense to paranormal to contemporary to westerns. I like the variety. But I also have a cozy mystery and a women’s fiction novel in the works. And, I write non-fiction, mostly in academia but I have written essays, articles, curricula, etc. I’m currently writing the 30-year history of a non-profit organization. So, it’s pretty safe to say, if I want to write it, I’ll likely take a stab at writing it.

 

Q: What was your harshest rejection? What was your best rejection?

 

It has been over 10 years since I submitted a work traditionally and I can’t recall a harsh rejection (not saying it didn’t happen, I just don’t recall!). I do remember a good rejection where my former editor stated that my suspense voice was similar to Iris Johansen’s. I floated around on that one for a while.

 

Q: What did you do when your very first book arrived? (I opened the book and smelled it.)

 

Probably opened the box and said, “Thank God. Finally!” But I honestly can’t remember.

 

Q: Where do you think your genre is going? What are the changes you’ve seen?

 

The romance genre is not going away. It will continue to be a popular genre. That said, the genre will evolve as it has over the past 15 years or so. Ebooks and erotica changed the landscape of the romance genre a while back. Indie publishing was the next wave. As writers in the genre become more diverse, so do the romance stories, and that changes not only the genre but the industry as a whole. There is a lot we could talk about here.

 

Q: Do you ever think back on your first book and wish you’d done something differently?

 

The rights to that first book reverted to me several years ago. Since then, I have revised and rewritten the story, added scenes and chapters that were left out, and re-released it back into the world. I like the final product better.

 

But — would I do anything differently about that first published book? Yes. I would have learned more about marketing. I would have written the sequel sooner. I would have paid attention to the popularity of the western genre (it was a cowboy story) and written more of those back then. But yeah, hindsight. We learn from it.

 

Q: Do you recommend getting an agent? How many agents have you had?

 

I have never had an agent. I didn’t need one for my first six books but my editor at the time kept bugging me to get one. Things happened in my life at that point that prevented me from moving forward and seeking an agent, and I actually stopped writing for a few years. After that, I sort of had to start over again, and with small press and indie publishing becoming a “thing” I decided not to go the agent route. However, never say never. I have a book in the hopper that might be a candidate for submitting via an agent.

 

Do I recommend getting an agent? I think the answer to that question is tied up in what your goals are as an author, what you write, how you want to publish, and more. It’s a good question.

 

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

Just that I’m looking forward to the event! Is it summer yet?

 

Retreat to the Springs! takes place Aug. 2 to 4, 2019, in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Besides Maddie James, we will also have Tim Waggoner and Jeffrey Marks on faculty. For more information, go here.  

 

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Ann Hagedorn

Nonfiction Presenter Ann Hagedorn

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Renowned author Ann Hagedorn will be talking about nonfiction at Retreat to the Springs! October 26 to 28, 2018, in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Q: What is the difference between creative nonfiction and “regular” nonfiction?

 

Actually, I call the genre of my books “narrative nonfiction,” which uses storytelling to deliver current issues and sometimes complex histories to the general reader in a compelling way. These are true stories, meticulously researched, that are told by applying the art of literary techniques, such as descriptive scenes, character development, story structure, suspense, and climax. I think of creative nonfiction as being more about memoirs. But, whatever the terminology, the goal for both is to utilize the very best tools of fiction writing and nonfiction research.

 

Q: Do you have to finish a nonfiction book before you can pitch it to an agent or publisher?

 

No, but you must write a substantial book proposal that shows the significance, scope, do-ability, research sources (such as people to interview, documents to uncover) and the literary potential for your book idea. Also, in the proposal, you must describe your vision for the story structure, which is effectively an artist’s sketch for how you think you will tell the story.

 

The better the proposal, the more confidence — and enthusiasm! — an agent and an editor will have in you and your book. I’m a great believer in writing proposals no matter how many books you’ve written or how solid the idea seems. While you’re writing it, you’ll be able to identify the strengths and potential flaws in the storyline.

 

Q: Do you have a “trademark” or something that distinguishes your work?

I’ve written five narrative nonfiction books — am now in the midst of the sixth — and each focuses on a different topic, but my reasons for choosing particular topics, my methods of research, and my use of literary techniques give them all common ground. For example, whether the stories I select are out of the past or in the present I choose them because they have potential for being significant to us all; because they are stories brimming with what I call “human constants,” meaning my readers may identify with the challenges and triumphs depicted in each of them; and because they are often stories in danger of slipping through the cracks of time and public awareness.

 

And, no matter what the topic may be, my research process always includes digging deeply for as many primary sources as I can find, traveling to the places where the narrative took place, using chronologies as organizational tools and story structure devices, and trying to re-trace the footsteps of the main players in the story.

 

Q: When you get an idea for a book, do you “bounce” it off people, like your agent or editor?

 

Sometimes I do, but typically not until I’ve narrowed it down to three ideas. Usually during the time between books, I come up with a new idea every time I discover an untold story or a significant issue that must be brought alive through nonfiction storytelling or an unknown detail from a story we all know. But I try to refrain from sharing all of my ideas with my agent and editor and explore the numerous possibilities first.

Q: Do you outline your books?

 

No, I don’t like the restraint of outlines; I think they can smother creativity. But one of my favorite parts of writing narrative nonfiction is to study the various possibilities for ways to tell the story, to experiment with story structure sketches, and then to choose one that becomes a flexible guide for the research and can change as the details of the story surface. There’s the saying, “Art flies if held too lightly and art dies if held too tightly.” I think it was Ray Bradbury who said it. [Yes, he did — based on an Oscar Wilde poem.] An outline is too tight; no sketch at all is death to the project; but a good sense of the story’s components and a sketch of how they might unfold is a map for the writer and also lots of fun to figure out.

Typically I use five parts or “acts,” so to speak, and a prologue and epilogue. With the current book, I’m dividing the narrative into three parts because the drama works best in three “acts.”

Q: How long does it take you to write a book, from research to publication?

 

For me, it’s usually about three and a half years from the day I begin the research for the proposal and the day I do the book launch and first booksignings. That includes fact-checking, source notes, edits, press packets, etc. Some of my books have flown quickly through the process: one was very early but another one was late because it was a current topic that kept evolving. They each have had different lives!

Q: Which of your books are you proudest of?

 

To honestly answer that, I will have to steal a line from author Tom Clancy who once said, “My books are like children; I have no favorites.” However, a few of them have main players whose wisdom and foresight had such an impact on me that they could rank as favorites, but I won’t go there!

 

Q: Do you have a few favorite pieces of advice for writers?

 

Yes, I do. Read. Read. Read. And … Write. Write. Write. Set up a routine. Carry a notebook with you at all times. And teach yourself how to walk the delicate line between discipline and creativity.

 

Q: Any favorite quotes from writers about writing?

 

I haven’t read a lot of books by writers about their writing, but I did read Stephen King’s book On Writing, which is excellent, by the way. And his quote is one of the best imaginable; I’ve actually memorized it and here it is, as I remember it:

“On some days writing is a pretty grim slog. On others, I feel that buzz of happiness, that sense of having found the right words and putting them in a line. It’s like lifting off in an airplane: you’re on the ground, on the ground, on the ground … and then you’re up, riding on a magical cushion of air and prince of all you survey. That makes me happy, because it’s what I was made to do.”

 

Retreat to the Springs! is a roaming writers’ workshop. In 2018, it will be held October 26 to 28 in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Go here for more information and registration.

 

 

 

 

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If you’re in the Cincinnati area and are looking for a writers’ group, please check out my Writing Workshop Workshop. We began as a group of writers who had attended my Communiversity classes on writing. We were discussing the art of critiquing other writers’ work and being critiqued by them. Where can you learn how to do this? At the Writing Workshop Workshop!

 

We meet the second Sunday of every month. Currently, we are meeting at the Green Dog Café in the Columbia-Tusculum area. We start the meeting at 1 and conclude at 3. If you want to eat, come a little early. Bring $5 for the kitty (and more if you want to eat). Bring seven minutes’ worth of work to read: fiction, nonfiction, query letters, blog posts, poetry — all are welcome.

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Well, the reviews are in and they’re great!

OK, I’ve actually had them for weeks, but I just remembered that I have to send them to Communiversity at UC. In April, I taught a one-day workshop called “Writing to Publish.” We had a great class, with lots of good questions about writing, formatting, and publishing your work.

Here are some of the highlights from the evaluations:

“You learn from a person who actually practices. Thank you. Loved it!”

“I learned exercises to help me unlock my writing blocks.”

“Fantastic! I truly learned so much about the writing market. [Would recommend this class to others] absolutely — so informative and so constructive. Very thorough, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Your next opportunity to hear my instruction on writing and publishing will be at my Capon Springs Nonfiction Writers’ Retreat. Even if fiction’s your thing, you’ll benefit from the beautiful surroundings and the instruction from Ann Hagedorn and me.

Registration deadline is August 15. Make your $50 deposit through PayPal to reserve your place.

Ready to go? Make your deposit with PayPal:
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Capon Springs Nonfiction Writers’ Retreat
Postponed to Fall 2016
Capon Springs, West Virginia

Join us for a retreat in a fantastic mountain setting, where you’ll receive expert instruction from two award-winning writers: Ann Hagedorn and Wendy Hart Beckman. Learn the strategies and tactics of being a successful nonfiction author. Experience a one-on-one manuscript critique. And enjoy personal time for writing while exploring the exquisite, inspiring surroundings! The retreat fee of $450 includes all workshop instruction, lodging, meals, gratuities, and taxes. (more…)

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If you’re looking for a friendly environment with good food in which to share your writing for some gentle, constructive criticism, the Writing Workshop Workshop is for you! We meet at 2 p.m. on the second Sunday of every month at Allyn’s Cafe in historic Columbia-Tusculum. Bring seven minutes’ worth of reading to share, $5 for the kitty — or more if you plan to eat or drink. We meet in the secret back room. I hope to see you there!

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I was invited on a Writing Blog Tour by Trudy Krisher (check out her blog at www.trudykrisher.blogspot.com). I’m ashamed to admit that I was on deadline when my “whistlestop” came, so I hope the train didn’t leave the station without me!

Trudy invited me to answer some questions about my work and writing process. Here are my answers.

1) What are you working on?
I just finished a book for the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing called University of Cincinnati College of Nursing: 125 Years of Transforming Health Care. The book will be published by Orange Frazer Press in time for the college’s 125th anniversary celebration in November. I really enjoyed learning about how UC’s nursing college was formed by a group of Cincinnati’s leading ladies, then went on to become the first to offer a baccalaureate degree in nursing, and is now leading nursing education by offering online nursing degrees and using technology in nursing.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
So far all my books have been in the genre of nonfiction, but I have written for both adults and YA. I’d say that my work differs in that no matter what I write (I’m finishing up my first novel now), I want my readers to come away thinking, “Wow—I didn’t know that! That was interesting!” One of my supervisors also told me once, “That sense of humor of yours is never very far from the surface, is it?” He didn’t mean it in a good way, though. Incidentally, he is in my last book, Founders and Famous Families of Cincinnati, but I won’t tell you who he is.

3) Why do you write what you do?
I write what I do for a variety of reasons, but often it’s because I’m asked to and I find the topic interesting. The College of Nursing book will be my eighth book. That means that half of the books I’ve published now were my idea and half were the publisher’s (or client’s) idea. But I have to find it interesting, or I wouldn’t be able to stick with it for an entire book.

4) How does your writing process work?
In almost every case—whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, magazine article or book—I start with a bubble map. I get all my existing ideas down on paper. I get all my “gaps”—my questions, or lack of knowledge—down on paper. Then I start researching, organizing or writing from there, depending on what type of work it is. But I always start with a bubble map. I have about 20 bubble maps going right now for books, essays and articles that I’d like to publish someday. It’s also a good exercise if I find myself stuck in traffic, or a boring meeting, or waiting in a doctor’s office without anything to read. When I finally get to the writing step, I tend to write nonfiction directly on the computer (because it’s less of a visceral process and more of an intellectual one for me). But with fiction, I tend to write it longhand, on lined paper. I spend a bit of time thinking about what type of writing implement I feel like that day. Then I think about what writing position and lighting I want to be in. It’s very organic.

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