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My Turn at Summer Camp
#conferences, #creativity, #writing

Growing up in the Midwest, I never experienced summer camp. At least, not the type I’ve read about in fiction.

At this year’s annual gathering of the Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, I got it. All those reasons people love the camp experience? Getting away, connecting with others, helping people, staying up late, partying, and walking away with a year’s worth of memories made in less than a week? That is this writers’ workshop in a nutshell.

This was also the workshop at which I felt I really belonged: In years past, I was like that timid new student at the high school who doesn’t know what table to sit at in the cafeteria. This year, I was invited to pull up a chair by a whole cast of amazing writers. Before too much more time passes, I wanted to compile a wrap-up of this awesome week, one during which real life took a backseat and I got to celebrate being a writer. So until next year, here’s a look back #MWW15:


First a special shout-out to the woman who makes every year’s Midwest Writers extra special—our director Jama Kehoe Bigger. Had she and Ball State English Professor Cathy Day not invited me to write about the conference during its 40th anniversary in 2013, I’m not sure I would have ever taken a stab at writing fiction. I owe her and Cathy so much!


Some of the awesome fellow writers I got to spend a LOT more time with this year. Between hanging out with new friends, running around and leading sessions as part of my responsibilities for the workshop committee, and taking headshots for writers, I felt like a pin ball in a machine, bouncing every which way. (Which explains why the three days of the conference were exhaustingly long—but I ended every day wanting more!)


We had some AWESOME agents with us again this year. On the left below, Michelle Richter from Fuse Literary (in addition to spending some time together over drinks Friday night, I also gave her and the incomparable Janet Reid a lift to the airport in the wee morning hours Sunday—I’m prone to talking people’s ears off…and having a lead foot, so I’m sure that was an experience for them 🙂 ) There was also the ever witty Brooks Sherman of The Bent Agency. This photo is so funny, capturing a “you had to be there for his Ray Bradbury joke” moment shared as a favorite by many at this year’s conference.


One of my favorite faculty this year and a published MWW alum, the sarcastic but sweet Lori Rader-Day. Lori is a Ball State grad who once worked in the same division I do for Ball State. Also, she critiqued pages of my work in progress and gave SUCH encouraging words. Sometimes I’m not sure people like her ever get to realize just how powerful it is hearing from someone published, someone really good at this whole writing business, someone who can say, “I believe in you, keep going, you got this.” Lori, just know those words meant a whole hell of a lot to me. Oh, and also? I can’t wait to dig into her new mystery this fall.


Oh look, it’s the awesome Jane Friedman, writing and publishing guru who brings down the house with her amazing keynotes every year. (I mean, she slips pictures of French bulldogs in them, what’s not to love?) Jane spoke about how writers need to focus on their work and how the work is its own reward (so true). I also ADORED this quote from Simon de Beauvoir she shared (because this is how I always feel about writing): “You give your all and yet it always feels as if it costs you nothing.” So grateful she was back with us again this year, and also, for the lovely chat we shared at the conference after-party. I’m working hard to better network at these types of events, and Jane’s nudge was just what I needed.


I just adore this picture of the amazing Ashley Ford. A Ball State alum, Ashley was someone I interviewed this spring for an issue of our university magazine and so I was very much looking forward to meeting her. She greeted me with a big ‘ol hug and smile (and a super sultry voice she’s kind of known for having!) The thing about Ashley? She makes everyone in the room feel like they’re her dear friend. That’s no small feat! It was amazing to watch her shine as a faculty member and to hear a bit more about the great things in store for her writing career. Go Ashley—can’t wait to read your work for!


Some more of our great faculty (from top left, clockwise): Julie Hyzy, Christa Desir, Michael Shelden, and Martha Brockenbrough. I popped into all of their day-long intensives and found myself jotting down great notes on my phone. Then, a few days later, MY iPHONE ATE THE NOTES. Ohhhh I wanted to cry! The only thing I have left is a pep talk gem from Martha’s presentation: “All you have to worry about is the work and the learning… If you do that work and you care that much about what you’re writing, you will succeed. There is one person on the planet who can tell these stories the way you can, so go forth, kick ass and succeed. You have this greatness in you. Assume it’s going to work out the way you want it to and it will.” (Man, that was just as great to hear a second time.)

Another plug for some of my awesome friends—this whole group is such a talented bunch, most either published or on their way. Special thanks to my committee member friends Kelly and Kelsey and the Michigan crew—Joe you give the best, warm-hearted hugs! Can’t wait to see you all again next year!


And finally, on the left, that’s Mark, Amy, and Melissa. These three (with their friend Carla), invited me to hang out with them and REALLY made me feel like I belonged. (Also, they introduced me to Cards of Humanity and even I was like, dude, I can’t believe I’ve never played either!) And to the right, that’s Rena and Kathy, conference besties. The “small world” factor to knowing Kathy is that she lives in the same little town where I’m from. We were talking about where she lived and at one point she commented, “Whoa, I can’t believe you even know the road!” Small town Midwestern girls, they got your back 😉


When I left Amy’s room late Saturday, I felt a serious wave of sadness come over me. It’s rare as an adult to get dedicated “me” time, both to focus on self-improvement and a craft you love. I think that’s why these three days in Muncie every year are so special to so many pictured here. If you’re a writer out there reading who’s never been, I hope you’ll join us for Midwest Writers next year! I promise the newbie effect wears off fast—and when it does you might get a little misty-eyed when it comes time to say your goodbyes too.



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  • Lori Rader-Day

    It’s summer camp. You’re totally right!
    Glad we got to hang out this year.

  • Cathy Shouse

    I enjoyed the conversations we had on freelancing and other topics as well, Gail! Thanks for a great wrap-up of the conference experience.

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