In This Issue
MWW July 23-25, 2015
Meet Heidi Schulz!
Meet Lucrecia Guerreo!
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Meet Heidi Schulz!

Heidi Schulz, first and foremost, is a storyteller who wanted to be a writer for the better part of her life. And once she got down to it, success followed. Her debut novel for middle grade readers, Hook's Revenge, was published by Disney Hyperion in 2014. Its sequel, Hook's Revenge: The Pirate Code is due out in September. In addition, Bloomsbury Kids will publish her picture book, Giraffes Ruin Everything, in the spring of 2016. It's been a whirlwind of a start for Heidi, and MWW is eager to welcome her to its 2015 workshop. Committee member Janis Thornton snagged a few minutes from Heidi's very busy schedule recently to ask a few questions about her writing career, her process, and what tips she hopes to impart at MWW15.

*  *  *


MWW: When did you receive "the calling" to write? How long did it take you to answer "yes," and why did you choose the middle grade reader as your target audience?

HS: For as long as I can remember, I have loved to tell stories. I remember telling my kindergarten teacher a tale about going up in an airplane (something I hadn't actually done at that point in my life). I told her that I saw an escaped balloon floating by, so I opened a window and grabbed it. That year, I learned a lot about the difference between telling fibs and creating fiction.


As I got older, I continued telling stories: sleepover ghost stories that scared me more than anyone, funny stories about where my little brother really came from (that he was a shaved, tailless monkey is one I still remember), and eventually, bedtime stories for my daughter.


I also wrote in my journal and later, on a personal blog. I always thought I would write books one day, but I was waiting for the right idea. Good thing it arrived! I've since learned that I can't sit around waiting for an idea to fall on me. I have to go out and grab it. The best ideas come when I am writing the worst ones.


As far as writing middle-grade, just a few days ago I was talking with a friend about why I think I am drawn to this category. I had a very difficult period of time toward the end of elementary school. Things were hard at home and things were hard at school. Without getting too personal, I'll just say I often felt very sad and also unsafe, both physically and emotionally. The only time I felt really secure was when I was lost inside a story. Books brought me comfort, gave me courage, and helped me feel less alone in the world - all things I desperately needed to get me through that time.


Though things eventually got better, I never lost that special love I developed for middle grade stories. The idea that I might be creating a safe place for a child who needs it is such an honor.


MWW: In just three years, you've gone from unpublished-but-hopeful author to not only a published novelist (Hook's Revenge) - but published with Disney behind you, a scheduled release of Book 2 (Hook's Revenge: The Pirate Code) in September, and a picture book (Giraffes Ruin Everything) due out next spring. <Pause to allow readers to catch their breath.> To what do you credit all of this phenomenal success?

HS: I'm still trying to catch my own breath! I credit hours and hours of hard work, a lot of stubbornness, some talent, a bit of luck, a wonderfully supportive husband and daughter, a truly great agent, and editors that are fantastic to work with.


MWW: You have said that you worked almost eight years on Hook's Revenge, but in only about a year, you produced its sequel, Hook's Revenge: The Pirate Code. What were the most valuable lessons you learned that enabled you to so effectively streamline your plotting and writing processes?

HS: That was quite a change, and it was intense. I did very little plotting on Hook's Revenge. I knew how I wanted the story to end, but only had vague ideas on what should happen to get there. I wrote when I felt like it, a scene here, a chapter there, then put the manuscript away for weeks or months at a time. Writing was a meandering, exploratory process - a fun hobby.


I wrote my second novel on a short timeline, turning in a first draft just eight weeks after I began writing it. I could not have done that without a detailed outline. I spent quite a lot of effort, both on my own and through brainstorming with my agent and editor, creating an extensive plot for The Pirate Code before I began drafting.


That's not to say there were no surprises along the way. The story changed from that outline to the first draft, and again in each subsequent draft, but I was able to reach my destination much sooner with the use of that map, even if I did go off road from time to time.


Once I was ready to begin writing, I made myself a word count schedule - and later, one for revisions - plotting out the work that needed to be done each day in order to meet my deadlines. I wrote six days a week without fail, but always took a day off to give my brain a rest.


There were writing days I was tempted to keep my laptop closed, but I knew that my job was to create, whether I felt like it or not. I was being paid to tell a great story and I had deadlines to meet. Both those things can be very motivating.


MWW: After two novels, what prompted you to produce a picture book (Giraffes Ruin Everything, due out in the spring)?

HS: I actually sold Giraffes only a couple months after selling Hook's Revenge. (Picture books can take a long time to publish.) Prior to writing it, I hadn't thought much about working in any category other than middle grade, but my agent encouraged me to flex my writing muscles and give it a try. I played around with a couple different ideas, but it wasn't until I tapped into something deeply personal - my utter loathing of giraffes - that I found the story I wanted to tell.


(If you would like to know why I dislike giraffes, I have written about it on my blog:


MWW: You are scheduled to conduct two craft-related sessions for MWW15: "Clearing the Air: Writing Middle Grade Humor that Goes Beyond Fart Jokes"; "Percy Jackson or Katniss Everdeen: Key Differences Between Middle Grade and Young Adult"; and to be part of the panel, "Agent & Author Relationships." What advice do you plan to give your attendees to help them attain their individual definition of success?

HS: I love that you mention "individual definition of success" because that will vary from person to person and will also change throughout a writer's career. However, one thing that should remain pretty constant is a striving to continually improve one's craft, no matter what the person's other writing goals may be. I plan to give my workshop participants new and/or sharper tools in their writers' toolboxes, and a better understanding of the different age categories they are writing for.


I also hope attendees will come away from my workshops and panel feeling encouraged and empowered. Each one of them has important things to say. I hope to help them to find, or refine, their voices.


MWW: Heidi, do you have any other information you would like to add?

HS: I would like to applaud all the writers who are spending their resources - time, energy, and money - to attend Midwest Writers in order to improve their craft and industry knowledge.


I'll also be teaching a free writing workshop for kids at Kids Ink in Indianapolis on the Sunday following the conference. Details can be found here: 

I hope to see some familiar MWW faces there!


MWW: Thank you, Heidi!

Meet Lucrecia Guerreo!

Lucrecia Guerrero, who grew up in Nogales, Arizona in a bilingual and bicultural home, lives in the Midwest. Her short works are published in literary journals, such as The Antioch Review. Louisville Review, and Glimmer Train, and she also has published a collection of linked short stories titled, Chasing Shadows. Tree of Sighs, her award-winning novel, was published in 2010, and she currently is editing her next.


Lucrecia will conduct two sessions for the MWW15: "Writing the Linked Short Story Collection" and "Writing the Short-Short Story." Committee member Janis Thornton recently chatted with Lucrecia about writing. The result of that conversation follows.


* * *


MWW: When did you first realize your were a writer?

LG: As an undergrad majoring in English, I took one creative writing class. I didn't get back to writing until years later. I don't think I saw myself as a writer until my collection of linked short stories, Chasing Shadows, was published.


MWW: How much of your writing do you draw from your own life experiences?

LG: Sometimes my characters, at the start, are based on someone I knew or are composites of people I knew. As the story progresses, the character develops into his or her own self. I might also draw on an experience I had or one that I heard or read about. There, too, as the story develops the experience evolves, gaining meaning from the context of the characters and story. The first stories I wrote, which are in the published collection, were all set in a fictional border town similar to the one I grew up in.


MWW: Please tell us a bit about your writing process. Do you write every day? Do you keep a journal? Do you use writing prompts to get you going? Do you have a special place to write that you feel nurtures your creativity?

LG: I don't use writing prompts, although I sometimes free write to help me better understand a character or story point. I write most days but not when I'm on vacation and usually not on holidays. I don't keep a journal, either personal or for creative purposes. I've started them, but I never can seem to keep it going; those memories that stick with me, I believe, are the ones that I might want to explore in my writing. I do prefer to write in my office during the morning, with classical musical (no lyrics to distract me!) playing softly in the background-and I need solitude if I'm writing fiction. (Although I don't eschew my cat Bob's company.)


MWW: Your novel, Tree of Sighs, was preceded by a book of short stories, titled Chasing Shadows. Having successes in both long and short formats, which do you prefer and why?

LG: I enjoy both. With the novel I appreciate that I can delve more deeply into the characters and stay with them longer. The short story, on the other hand, allows me the time to really work with language and imagery more. The short-short story is another form that I enjoy writing. The stories in Chasing Shadows are linked, and, eventually, I'd like to write another book of linked stories.


MWW: You are scheduled to conduct two sessions for MWW15: "Writing the Linked Short Story Collection" and "Writing the Short-Short Story." What advice do you give your attendees to help them attain their writing goals?

LG: In general, I would tell people to quit thinking so much about what they're going to write, and-write! I don't know how many times I've had people tell me about projects they're planning-and all the reasons why now is not a good time to get started. Also, I'd advise people to not be so hard on themselves: don't expect to write a masterpiece in your first draft. But do write that first draft!


I hope those attendees who are writing linked short stories, or thinking about doing so, will join my session on the linked short story! Listen to what I've learned about this genre and share your thoughts. The short-short story is a great genre for experimenting with techniques. I'll have some stories to read, and you'll have the chance to start some stories of your own!


MWW: Do you have any other information you would like to add?

LG: I began writing seriously after attending a writers' conference similar to this one. The first time I attended, I came away motivated and inspired by the wonderful community of writers who understood and shared my passion for writing. I've attended MWW in the past, and I'm sure many of you will come away just as inspired as I was years ago. Keep writing!


 MWW: Thank you, Lucrecia!

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