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Midwest Writers Workshop

Summer + phone + MWW15

All was well for the first ten minutes of Summer Heacock’s first Faculty-Selection Meeting as the newest member of the Midwest Writers Workshop Planning Committee.

Until she goes to our bathroom.

Minutes later, she fast-forwards from our hallway to the living room. “MY PHONE! My phone! I dropped it in the TOILET!

She thrusts the potty-watered phone into Kelsey Timmerman‘s hands, “Take off the case! Oh My God! My phone!

“Oh no, you dropped your brain in the toilet!” Kelsey says and begins pulling and yanking and grunting and summoning all his Crossfit strength. Summer in clear panic moans, “My phone, my phone.” Then, in typical Summer-humor, adds as Kelsey struggles with the slippery device, “I’d take a picture of you, but you’ve got my PHONE.”

I watch all this unfold from the kitchen, then do what I do: pray. I mean, this is Summer’s PHONE!

And I worry about the heart monitor hanging on a lanyard around her neck. Will it start beeping or blaring? Is it transmitting dangerous signals to those medical folks monitoring her thumpity-thumps? Because, you know, she had a HEART ATTACK in August. A HEART ATTACK.

My husband John calmly goes to the cabinet and grabs a box of Uncle Ben’s long-grain brown rice and an empty Cool Whip container. Kelsey finally frees the phone from the case. Maybe the orange Muncie Crossfit T-shirt he’s wearing helps.

Kelsey submerges the phone into the bowl of rice. And we all hold our breaths. No alarms from the heart monitor. Yay.

Everyone takes a seat around my kitchen table and I start the meeting. Summer hugs the Cool Whip container with so much of her life inside covered in brown rice and gently rocks back and forth in her chair.

I sigh and start the conversation of MWW15 and Part I: we discuss (Blank) returning to teach mystery. MWW fav (Blank) for fiction and craft. Cathy Day’s session. Holly Miller and Dennis Hensley’s session. YA session with big name (Blank). Kelly Stanley’s suggestion of (Blank) for nonfiction.

Then {Pause}.

Summer’s phone beeps. “What does that mean? What do I do? Is the phone turned off?” She opens the lid and takes the phone from the rice. The screen is streaked and green. Still sick.

{Return to meeting}

Summer quote: "That's me contemplating the horror of a phone in the potty and Kelsey realizing he touched a potty phone."

Quoting Summer: “That’s me contemplating the horror of a phone in the potty and Kelsey realizing he touched a potty phone.”

I check my list of faculty already confirmed: the magnificent Jane Friedman, and tax-man/business genius Gary Hensley.

We discuss more potential faculty for Part II: Lori Rader-Day and (Blank) for middle-grade, (Blank) for screenwriting, (Blank) for short story. I call Ashley Ford, who says, “Of course, I’ll come.”

Then {Pause}

Another check on the status of Summer’s phone. Still puny. I can’t believe she’s not crying. She tenderly lowers the ailing phone into the rice.

{Return to meeting}

It’s on to discussing the agents and Brooks Sherman returning, and contacting (Blank) and (Blank) and (Blank) and (Blank) about coming.

And always tweaking and seeking improvement, we review the names of editors such as (Blank) and (Blank) and (Blank).


Our discussion returns to THE PHONE. “It may take the whole weekend. Just leave it in the rice,” Mike Brockley recommends.

“My pictures,” Summer whispers.

I keep praying.

And thus wraps up, Summer’s first Faculty Selection Meeting. She takes the Cool Whip container and its precious cargo to her car and heads home. With no working PHONE. With no GPS.

Later, safely home, she sends a text that her phone is “sort of” healed. “The typing is a bit wonky. But I’ve got it in the rice bucket still.”

I’m keeping the faith. God cares about the stuff we care about.

[If I were fizzygrrl-ified, this post would include GIFs every few paragraphs. Not going to happen. Therefore, you’re on your own, people. Re-read and insert your own moving images of Benedict Cumberbatch, Nathan Fillion, Matt Smith, and kittens.]

But I’m the Happy Day Moment girl, so I’m believing and hoping. All will be well.


Midwest Writers Workshop 2013: Thank You

Wow. What three days those were.

Weeks and weeks have passed since those three days and I’m still thinking about them. Have you ever wanted to blog so badly but your mind was foggy?? Well, that’s me.

After the 40th Midwest Writers Workshop, July 25-27, I feel like my brain has been soaking in a tub of brilliance and questions — the folds soaking up the yes and the what was and the what is next.

MWW13 represented my 34th conference and my 10th as director, and it always has stretched me all kinds of ways, and I am glad I said yes.

My heart is huge with affection for all those attending, and my brain has shrunk under the weight of all that was MWW13. As MWW director, I had the great privilege of serving the 16 faculty and 237 participants and so, all this time, I’ve wanted so much to say something meaningful and to say it well and yet I am tragically bereft of words.

Oh, perfect thoughts appeared, brilliant words. Problem was, they arrived at 3 a.m. Then dawn. And where were those perfect thoughts? Evaporated.

I’m beginning to accept the fact that I will not be able to put into quantifiable words the entirety of what MWW13 meant to me try as I might.

I’ve been back at my day job and a more normal routine for these weeks. And still not cannot find the words of my heart.

So these will have to do.

From here on, parts of the weekend may very well just be woven into my other stories as the experience works its way into the fibers of everyday life.

My time with everyone – faculty, participants, interns, committee – was extraordinary, and I’m still carrying several very important conversations and moments around with me like smooth beach stones in a pocket, reminders of a wonderful experience and an important time.

Jama Fan Page cvrOne of those smooth stones: the surprise of Jama’s Fan Club. What I do for MWW comes from a place of love and appreciation and a giving-back. I never expected that participants/friends would create something so special for me from their own place of love and appreciation and giving back.

My only words:  Thank you.

Then another smooth stone: the coup of my planning committee, presenting me with the Dorothy Hamilton Award. They kept the surprise for months! At the end of the banquet, Holly Miller said, “We had one more item on the agenda, but I need the help of my co-conspirators–the Blue Denim Gang.” The MWW committee all came forward and Holly reminded the audience that they had been introduced to MWW co-founder Dorothy Hamilton, posthumously, the night before.

MWW Jama award foto - with inscription“Dorothy,” Holly continued, “like our banquet speaker Hank Phillippi Ryan, was a master at multi-tasking. She had a day job but also wrote bestselling novels and ALSO found time to help wannabe writers. A few years ago the MWW committee established the Dorothy Hamilton Award to honor an individual who, like Dorothy, was a multi-tasker–someone who was a successful writer but also made time to help other authors, and someone highly committed to Midwest Writers Workshop. We don’t give the award every year, only when we have someone who meets all the criteria. This anniversary year the committee decided it was the perfect time to honor someone who is uniquely qualified. She writes books, articles, newsletters, blogs and serves as our intrepid leader. Jama, this one is for you…”

That said, Kelsey handed me the bronze award and the whole room stood up and applauded! And I was left again. With. No. Words.

I didn’t expect what happened. A coup, indeed. A Happy Day Moment.

An honor also from my committee’s own place of love and appreciation and giving back.

Again, all the meaningful words I have come down to two:

Thank you.

photo by: { k2 }

A Workshop, A Manuscript, A Book

Or Why Attending a Writers Conference Can Help Your Career….

Or How I Became One of the First MWW Success Stories ….

I never pitched an agent. I never wrote a proposal. I never wrote a query. I never mailed the manuscript to the publisher. I never submitted any sample writing, any biography, any synopsis.

I never followed the professional protocols for turning a manuscript into a book.

And yet, one day I received a phone call from an editor at Fleming H. Revell publishers. An editor I had never met. A publishing house I had never submitted to.

“I love the first chapter and the chapter The Date, and we want to publish your manuscript,” he said.*

What? My manuscript? My untitled manuscript?

Not your typical path to publication.

But a pathway made possible because of my trips through Midwest Writers Workshop.

It was 1976 and I was a 20-year-old college student with a desire to write and an idea for a book, an English major at Ball State University. That summer, an (accidental?) bumping into a friend-of-a-friend, a casual conversation about writing, a mention of a writers’ conference (in my very city, at my very university), a leap of faith, a saying “yes” to a new adventure, all led to me sitting in a classroom in Ball State’s Carmichael Hall, listening to author and humorist Tom Mullen talk about writing for the inspirational marketplace.

I had found a mentor.

Life-changing. That’s what Midwest Writers was.

That class, that creative environment, that support and encouragement from faculty and committee and participants was like water and sunlight and nourishment. It made me grow.

I was hooked on the importance of a writers’ conference, the value of Midwest Writers Workshop.  For the next few years, I registered and signed up for classes in nonfiction and poetry. I learned to be a better writer, listening, asking questions, taking notes. I kept growing.

I found writer-friends. And become part of the MWW community.

Then in 1979, the inspirational writing class I attended was taught by Floyd Thatcher, an editor with Word Publishing. He was friendly (just like Tom and all MWW faculty seemed to be!), offered keen advice on tightening my writing, and believed in my story.

Very rough first draft, which went on and on and on for pages before the "story" (action) began.

Very rough first draft, which went on and on and on for pages before the “story” (action) began.

Eventually, after rewrites and rewrites, I summoned enough courage to mail my (unnamed) manuscript to him. When he called and said, “I was moved by your story, but it’s not quite what our company publishes,” I almost dropped the phone. Until I heard his next sentence. “But I hope you don’t mind, I mailed your manuscript to another editor I know.”  Then I did drop the phone.

A few weeks later, Victor Oliver, editor at Fleming H. Revell, called.

I had found an editor.

And I had found a publisher.

And I became not just a writer, but an author.

This path of mine to publication, this walkway was created with stone after stone.  Courage. Registering for the workshop. Courage. Asking for advice. Courage. Revising editing improving. Learning. Courage. Sending out my words. Courage and hope. My story.

Attending MWW was my right first step out of the sometimes secluded life of writing and into a community that was chock full of resources, connections, inspiration. And above all, friendships.

Then Came a Miracle1I could go on and on about the impact Midwest Writers had on me every year that I attended. After my book was published, I became a presenter, then a committee member, and then director. In some capacity, I’ve been part of MWW for 37 of its 40 years.  MWW is part of who I am. And I am grateful.

What will your Midwest Writers story be?

(In the spirit of Literary Citizenship, get the book, read the book, review the book.)

* This call came two weeks before I got married. It was a very good summer!



200 Days…until Midwest Writers Workshop 40th

After three days of extreme awesomeness, I thought it would be easy to write a post reflecting on the incredible experience Midwest Writers Workshop 2012 was for me and encouraging writers to keep our 40th workshop on their radar. {That’s July 25-27, 2013!} But I found myself overwhelmed by the all of the feelings and thoughts that came rushing to my head. Honestly, those days last July were like a party with so many old and new friends.

Jama & Kelsey mww12I’ve never had too much trouble meeting people and making friends, and I’ve been labeled as a friendly sort of gal. And being director of Midwest Writers for the past 10+ years has been extraordinary for meeting and making a wealth of friends. It’s like I get richer and richer. All because of the people.

Deep down we all crave for that sense of community. This is what MWW does best.  If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to meet people who are like you, who “get” what you’re trying to do with this writing life, then come to MWW.  Decide to give this connecting-with-a-writing-community-workshop-thing a try. After all, the latest buzz word is “intentional” and why not plan to get more intentional with your writing in 2013?

Attending MWW13 may be the right first step out of this sometimes secluded life of writing and into a community that’s chock full of resources, support and encouragement.

I could go on and on about what Midwest Writers has done for writers during the past 40 years. I should know. I’ve been involved as a participant, (a success story!), presenter, committee member, and director for 36 of those years, attending my first one as a college student.  MWW is part of who I am.

Highlights of MWW12…

No. 1 I was struck by how eager we all were to share our experiences as writers, whether good or bad.

No. 2 I loved that we had teenagers and octogenarians, that no one felt left out, that everyone was so welcoming and supportive.

No. 3 It was heartwarming that even though most of started as strangers, it was a very personal experience.  We talked, we laughed, and we gave high fives or hugs following agent pitches and craft sessions and writing contests announcements … and then encouraged and talked some more.

No. 4 I eavesdropped on clusters of writers explaining projects and blogs and twittering and books and ideas; words rippled through every nook and corner like warm summer breezes.

No. 5 What a difference social media can make! I think part of the success of MWW12 was the addition of social media tutoring and instant feedback via Twitter. Brilliant idea!

In all, MWW12 was one of the most positive workshops we’ve had. Simply inspired.  It was community.

MWW logo with 40th symbolAnd now we’re gearing up for three more days of extreme awesomeness: July 25-27, 2013!

Let me tell you, coming to Midwest Writers Workshop is well worth it. I want to thank the MWW team for always putting together a fantastic conference and cannot wait until this summer when we celebrate our 40th!


I’m Jama Kehoe Bigger, a wife, mother, grandmother who’s decided to spread the word about the importance of finding Happy Day Moments each and every day.

What started as a simple essay I was asked to write morphed into a Facebook project and is now a website. The idea of choosing to be grateful, to find a “moment” even in the worst day, that was happy, that was thankful.

My life and how it relates to discovering happy moments? Well, here’s just part of my story………..

I was 13 years old when I dove into a swimming pool and broke my neck, leaving me a diagnosed quadriplegic. The neurosurgeon told my parents that I would never roll over, stand, walk, or use my hands. Since I was from a very athletic family – my father was a football coach at Ball State University – and I was a junior high cheerleader and gymnast, this prognosis of never living a normal, active life was difficult and challenging. Challenging but not impossible. For there were some things I knew for sure, even at that young age – that God was on my side, that He still worked miracles, and that with Him, nothing was impossible. Through faith, lots of prayer and hard work, I didn’t stay in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down.

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photo by: Enokson