Jama & 2016 ninjas 2

Happy Literary Citizens

Let me tell you how I was called Professor Bigger.

The finger-pointing and hand clapping credit goes to Cathy Day. Last year, she suggested that we move Midwest Writers Workshop to coincide with the final week of Ball State University’s second summer session.  She then suggested that because I was the Director, I should teach the class (the class she developed) on Literary Citizenship and that the students could be the interns at MWW. I nearly uttered my great-grandmother’s words, “Oh, Psshaw.” Although I have B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from Ball State, I hadn’t taught college classes in {REDACTED} years, and those were freshman composition courses.

Somehow, she convinced me. And somehow, she convinced Adam Beach, chair of the English Department, that this a worthy plan for English majors to both learn the value of literary citizenship and to receive an immersive learning as assistants to literary agents at a writers’ conference.

Great things can happen when you say “yes” to a Cathy Day idea. The curriculum. The classroom. The students. It was déjà vu all over again and I remembered how much I enjoyed teaching.

Then Cathy tagged one more brilliant idea onto her plan: assigning me a research assistant, Meagan McAlister. Surrounded by all this supportive energy and encouragement, I entered Room 291 of the Robert Bell Building to teach “ENG 299x: Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age.” And there I was greeted as “Professor Bigger.”

Let me tell you about the students.

Six students. Amanda Byk, Lauren Cross, Caroline Delk, Kara Harris, Rachel Lauve, Rachel Wright-Marquez. I told them to call me Jama.

They are clever and articulate and curious and thoughtful and funny and passionate. They are majoring in Creative Writing and English Studies and English Education, and they all bonded into a special friendship. They fangirl over authors and they love books and Harry Potter and donuts. One wears a Chicago Cubs cap, one carries a Pokemon backpack, one has political buttons pinned to her laptop bag. They became the 2017 MWW Ninja Team (the very first interns were called “ninjas” and it just fits).

Let me tell you about what they did.

That first day I explained Cathy Day’s definition: “A literary citizen is an aspiring writer who understands that you have to contribute to, not just expect things from, the publishing world” and the mantra of Literary Citizenship: “Be Interested in What Other People Are Doing.”

I explained that they can tend to their literary citizenship by reading (a lot), buying books, reviewing them, and publishing the reviews on their blogs or Goodreads. They can champion the successes of authors, not because of what they can get back, but because it’s part of being a literary citizen.

I underscored what Matt Bell reminded us: “The better solution is, as a part of your daily work as a writer, support the communities you wish to be a part of, by reading books, writing reviews, promoting other writers or bookstores or whatever in your social networking. It’s a small but old truth, but the more you give, the more you will receive. And this isn’t any kind of slimy networking. This is every writer’s responsibility, and the writers who create the most buzz for the good work of others will find that same energy waiting for them, when their own excellent book finally comes out.”

They were all in and realized that they had been literary citizens without even knowing it. “I’m a literary citizen for life,” one said. Another one said, “In the words of Cathy Day, it’s about building an oasis and creating and maintaining relationships in the community.”

They wrote blog posts about their experiences as a literary citizen. They jumped enthusiastically into the community-building project of sending “charming notes” that Carolyn See described in her book, Living a Literary Life. Their social media “charming notes” were both passive – friending or following or emailing someone in the publishing field (a writer, editor, publisher), and active – actually saying something to them (“I enjoy your work,” or “You published one of my favorite books”).

They read books written by some of the Midwest Writers faculty, they wrote and posted reviews of those books, they interviewed the authors and wrote another blog post.

They were bright and cheerful and arrived early to class. They were attentive and listening and respectful to guest speakers Gail Werner, Kelsey Timmerman, Holly Miller, Meagan McAlister, and Cathy Day.

They were spectacular as MWW Ninjas, as assistants to the literary agents during the 43rd Midwest Writers Workshop. They structured the (very fluid and challenging) schedules for their agents, they monitored the time for pitches, they bolstered the confidence of attendees who were pitching and calmed their anxieties. They worked tirelessly; they were friendly and generous.

I was their Summer English Class Professor and I was also their Midwest Writers Workshop Director. And I could not have been prouder of their literary citizenship development and their at-conference professionalism.

Let me tell you about what it means.

I enjoyed this summer more than I thought I would. The energy of the students, the classroom, building relationships, expanding the vision the purpose literary citizenship.

Encouraging, building up, cheerleading. And yes, teaching. It’s what I’ve done for a long time as the Director and now the experience has broadened as a “Professor.”

It means my life is enriched. Great things happened.


Amanda Byk, Rachel Lauve, Caoline Harris, Kara Harris, Lauren Cross, Rachel Wright-Marquez (center)

“Be passionate about books and writing, because passion is infectious.” ~ Cathy Day


Homer Simpson Authors Coming!

The Authors Are Coming!

“That was a big sigh,” he said.

“I know. I was just thinking that it’s been quite a while since I posted a blog on my website,” I answered.

“Just tell them the Authors Are Coming.”

Because. Yes. As Director of Midwest Writers Workshop, that’s what I (and my hardworking team) do: we bring talented authors, talent-seeking agents, and talent-helping editors to the campus of Ball State University, in Muncie, Indiana.

So since my last blog post my life has been THIS

registrations, facilities, room assignments, emailing, scheduling, calling, emailing, hotel, travel, food, menus, parking, emailing, publicity, tweets, emailing, organizing, rescheduling, book orders, merchandise orders, signage, lists, more lists, emailing, session notes, equipment, bowling party, welcome totes, donations, magazines, emailing…….

Oh, yes, and then there was THIS: “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” the class I taught during second summer term at Ball State. The {amazingly talented} students in the class are the interns for this year’s MWW, functioning as assistants to the literary agents. Really, so. much. fun. to be back in the classroom. My last teaching experience was as an instructor for English Composition courses at Ball State {____} years ago.

I reckon juggling all THIS doesn’t make me a slackard that I haven’t posted in a while…

Therefore, I give you my blog post announcing THIS:

Homer Simpson Authors Coming!

July 21-23, 2016



What people need

What people need


What People Need . . .

Love. Forgiveness. Encouragement.

There’s so much sadness, so much sorrow. There’s so much controversy, so much contention.

In all the noise of news reports and journalism and everything social media, there are hard things. And so much rawness in all the words. And in so many ways we speak to and treat others.

What people need most to cover all this rawness is the softness of words of love and forgiveness and encouragement. How we speak, how we treat others – it matters. In all relationships.

In this softness, we become stronger.

That’s what people need most — words that make them stronger. We can overcome the noise, the loud. We can choose how we treat others; we can choose words that encourage, words that build up, and words that bring together.

Our words can either bring together or tear apart, and here in this space, and on this Facebook Page, I want to purpose my words for bringing together. For building up. Words that point the way to what people need:  Love. Forgiveness. Encouragement.

Let’s start thinking more about how we speak, how we treat people … in all our encounters, in all our relationships:

…forgiving others and moving forward

…showing kindness and respect to others

…accepting others just the way they are

…encouraging others and cheering for them

…doing something little (or big) for others every day

…letting love be our compass


So here are my soft strong words for April, my thoughts, the tweets, which were liked and an echo of those things that people need most…..

  • The strongest, healthiest relationships are made up of two forgivers.The strongest, healthiest relationships are made up of two forgivers.
  • Let’s tip the scale to being more positive, more encouraging, more loving.
  • Thinking good thoughts about someone isn’t enough. We need to say the encouraging words.
  • You will be amazed how much of a difference you can make by just smiling every time you talk to someone.
  • Choose encouragement, lifting others up, not putting them down.
  • Let’s offer friendships that are generous and forgiving and guilt-free.
  • Treat all the people you meet that there is something worthwhile in them.
  • Let’s allow God’s goodness to flow through us and nourish all who cross our paths. ‪
  • Love the hard people, at the hardest times, in the kindest ways.
  • The gift of pure love allows us to bless others and accept them without condition
  • Let our love for others be sincere and active, without hypocrisy.‪
  • Make intentional time to tell others specifically how they bless you.
  • Let’s be less judgmental and cultivate a sense of wonder at each person’s uniqueness. We’re all a wee bit crazy in our own way. 
  • There is powerful freedom in admitting our weakness because it allows others to love us as we truly are.
  • Make allowances for and be patient with each other, and forgive without punishing.
  • We can either harm by the selfishness of our silence or diminished praise, or we can heal by the selflessness of our encouraging words.
  • Today give others precisely what you may think they deserve least. Grace.
  • If you really fulfill this royal law: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you’re doing well.
  • The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
  • Let our gratitude be awakened; let our love be quickened.‪
  • We all need to learn to communicate without blaming.

Above all, let’s keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. ‪


i want to live like everything is a

Today I am 60. This is what I know for sure.

Today I am 60. No, wait. [TIME OUT.] Isn’t my mom 60. Aren’t I 40? No, wait. [TIME OUT.] Let’s do the math. I was born April 30, 1956. So…..

Egads. I AM 60!

True story:

One day I’m wondering what to read for my 6th grade book report and the next day waking up and I’m 60. How did this happen?!

True Story:

Young girl. Tomboy. Christian. Gymnast. Cheerleader. Accident. Quadriplegia. God is Faithful. Jesus. Small steps. Family. College. BA. MA. Writing. Teaching. God is Faithful. Love. Marriage. Babies. God is Faithful. Mothering. Business owner. God is Faithful. Grandchildren. Joy. God is Faithful. (Some pain tears fears and stuff. Jesus always. God is Faithful. Always.)

And more of my true story…

What I know for sure after six decades:

I am grateful. For my God. And for the unconditional love and support from my Mom and Dad, my brothers and sister, husband, children, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews, in-laws, and my friends. All my life, I have been cared for, encouraged, sustained, strengthened, sheltered, forgiven. Sixty years of gratitude.

What I know for sure after six decades:

God is faithful. In all the adventures. In all my mileage. During the happy, the scary, the joyous, the heartbreak. During the body slams, soul slams, and heart slams. When the wind was knocked out of me by unexpectedness and sometimes terrifying scenarios. When I fully understood that every day I lived and walked by faith, when I began to focus on living with gratitude, when I knew I am always His, always held by Him, always desiring to serve Him. Which doesn’t suggest that life is always gentle, or that moving on, or even getting up and out of bed is always easy. But it does promise that when times are tough, I shall always shift my focus to remembering His faithfulness.

What I know for sure after six decades:

When life isn’t going as planned, God brings me fierce grace. I will never find a bundle of affliction that does not have in it somewhere sufficient grace. When circumstances haven’t turned out as I’d hoped or prayed, I know that God is always there with grace, caring for me, and loving me. My circumstances don’t determine my peace. Although disappointments take something from me; they can leave something too: a gift, an opportunity, the possibility of creating change. His grace pours out and covers me. And there is nothing He cannot redeem.

What I know for sure after six decades:

My heart is to love like Jesus. Every. Day. The best way to improve my life, my relationships with others is to act like Him. How can I love others as Jesus loves me and participate in the kingdom work to which I’m called? By loving others when it’s hard, when it costs me something, when it’s not convenient. By choosing to be loving even when I feel wronged, misunderstood and rejected. By pouring out His love that offers patience. Love that extends kindness. Love that responds with gentleness.

What I know for sure after six decades:

I know about finding a Happy Day Moment. Finding one small thing, one small blessing. Then finding another small thing and then another. It’s a pathway to living with gratitude, and to seeing God in every moment. Every day I can choose to give thanks for something. For family and friends I love and who love me. For the world around me and the blessings I have. Being happy doesn’t mean I have everything; it means I’m thankful and appreciate what I have. Gratitude brings solace and perspective and more smiles than frowns, more laughter than tears.

The best stuff I know for sure after six decades:

It’s all about loving and gratefulness, giving grace and forgiveness. About doing all that I can do and then leaving everything up to God. The best stuff I know is that God is in control, and that with God nothing is impossible, and that Jesus loves me this I know.

I know about waiting and going slow and being patient and having faith and obeying God and believing and trusting and staying strong and living with gratitude.

I know that kindness matters. In all things. I know I can’t respond to unkindness with more unkindness.

I know my heart, my soul is nourished when I’m kind; it splinters if I’m cruel.

I know about love about compassion about sacrifice about healing about friendliness about mercy about generosity about tolerance about understanding about listening about encouraging.

I know about getting older and wiser and learning from mistakes.

I know about good and sad and happy and hard.

But it’s not always about what I know. It’s also about what I say and do.

I know about being brave.  That I should say what I need to say.  That when I don’t speak up, there’s a lot of important stuff that ends up not getting said.

It’s good to believe in myself during the hard stuff, but it’s better to believe in God during the hard stuff.

I know that I will never regret the chances I took, the love I gave out, and the gifts I shared.


My odometer has rolled to that new 0 number. There have been miles and miles of ups and downs, straight roads and treacherous, detours and scenery, lost ways, stops and some speeding, getting stuck, moving backward, pushing forward. May the accelerating continue….

What I want for sure for my next decades:

I want to live with the juicy fruits of the spirit hanging from all my branches: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I want to live by the words in John 13: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

I want to be known by His love.

I want to show more love, kindness, grace, mercy.

I want to be more forgiving, courageous, brave.

I want to be less awful.

I want to live my life like everything is a miracle.

Go Write Win1

Go! Write! Win!

As Director of Midwest Writers Workshop, my main assignments are to cheerlead and serve writers. I enthusiastically wave pom poms in their general direction and root for them as they pursue their dreams. And of course, my primary cheer is encouraging them to come to our workshop/events/programs. Fetch me my megaphone! M! W! W! Go! Write! Win!

Here’s the honest-to-God truth: I’ve been connected to MWW since my sophomore year of college and now I’m a granny, so basically about 67% of my life. {Don’t let your brain explode trying to do the math, let’s just say that I’m no longer middle-aged.} First, I attended as a participant, then after my MWW-impacted manuscript was accepted for publication, I came on board as a committee member. Eventually, I become the director. {OK, so Myers-Briggs got it right. I’m ENFJ (Extraversion, iNtuition, Feeling, Judgment): “You are warm, empathetic, responsive, and responsible. You are highly attuned to the emotions, needs, and motivations of others. You find potential in everyone, and want to help others fulfill their potential.”}

MWW set a torch in my chest for helping other writers turn their dreams into reality. That fire has burned in me for {redacted} years. It’s like a ministry for me. “Amen!” “Let’s make this happen!” I proclaim.

From the very beginning of my time on the committee, I’ve been called to cheer. And to serve.

From my way-back years to my now-year, I serve writers. Fiction writers, nonfiction writers, poets, and all those who are struggling to know what they’re writing. I serve writers who write mystery stuff, romantic stuff, inspirational stuff, children’s stuff, blog stuff, or scary stuff I’m too sensitive to read … and I even serve those who write their stuff on a Mac. Doesn’t matter to me. I’ll serve ‘em all. I love ‘em all.

I love so many of these MWW people more than I love a big ol’ hunk of chocolate. I love writers in all their diversity. I love that the common bond for all of us truly is that we want to be writers who make an impact.

So, if you are a writer who feverishly wants to improve and be a more skilled/savvy writer, MWW can help you:

Make tangible progress as a writer: Your confidence will grow and your skills will improve. You’ll notice a real difference in your writing.

Become someone who starts AND finishes: Your manuscript will no longer be trapped in your head or desk drawer. You’ll learn to get from idea, to draft, to done.

Navigate the publishing world: You’ll receive guidance from experts who have sold and published their writing.

Create friendships to last a lifetime: You’ll discover a group of creative folk who give support and cheer. You’ll find a tribe that can amplify your creativity and boost your momentum exponentially.

If you’re ready to get serious about the discipline and the craft, MWW can help you achieve your goals.

Just ask….

Kelsey Timmerman: “The workshop, located in my hometown of Muncie, is where I met Caren (Johnson) Estesen who sold Where Am I Wearing to Wiley. It’s where it all began for me.”

Lori Rader-Day: “I can honestly say that the MWW Fellows (2008) retreat changed my life. That’s where I found out I was writing a mystery, that I was a mystery writer. And that designation changed everything.”

Amy Reichert: “My favorite conference is the Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, IN.”

D.E. Johnson: A 2009 MWW Fellow, Dan calls MWW’s summer workshop “one of the best conferences in the country and certainly the best value.”

Cathy Shouse: A 2007 MWW Fellow, Cathy appreciates “how MWW has it all in one place–manuscript critiques, craft classes in essay and novel writing, agent panels, the the latest social media techniques.”

Kelly O’Dell Stanley:  “Jama Kehoe Bigger and the Midwest Writers Workshop deserve the credit for most of what I know about writing.” (Acknowledgements, Praying Upside Down)

Janis Thornton:  A 2009 MWW Fellow, Janis says, “I’ve been attending Midwest Writers Workshop events since the late ’90s, and they have been an invaluable resource for information, ideas, instruction, inspiration, and a sense of belonging to a community of writers.”

Sarah Schmitt:  “I’m a regular participant at the Midwest Writers Workshop!”

J.R. Roper: “My critique group has been instrumental to my growth as a writer. My friends from the Midwest Writers Workshop have been amazing.”

….and we have a very long list … {now’s your opportunity, MWW alums, post your news in a comment below!}

So all you writers in the midst of some heads down work on your writing, I think you need a big, awesome thing you’d like to do. MWW is that big, awesome thing. This summer. 2016. Be here.

Let me cheer and serve you.

GO! (Register for #mww16)

WRITE! (Words with impact)

WIN! (The agent’s nod, the contract, the big bucks, the movie  deal …think BIG!)