Overview: Fire in Fiction Workshop

I am back in Iowa in time for spring break. Yesterday I spent the majority of the day cutting out a purple velvet dress and sewing it. Bastet loved getting to lounge on all the soft fabric. I am a bit out of practice. My formerly calloused thumbs actually hurt from all the pin shoving, which means I could use some thimbles.

Today I’m in town buying a zipper for the dress, which I will return to tomorrow. I’m also doing a variety of exciting activities, such as getting the oil changed in the car and picking up medicine. Going protesting tonight as well–since I’m in a reconciling congregation, we figured we would protest against the former candidate for governor in the state who campaigned largely on the one man-one woman marriage platform.


That’s how my day’s shaping up. Maybe you’d like to know a bit about the Fire in Fiction workshop?

I don’t know how many of you realize my MA is in business and technical writing. I started out as a creative writing major, completed the majority of the classes I needed in a year, and was seduced away by a bunch of really bright and interesting professors who had a major that looked like it would lead to employment. It is actually through this MA that I ended up at Kirkwood, because we had a tech writing degree for a short time.

Technical writing is relevant here. So far, I have been in workshops of two types. The first type, most of the writers groups and Viable Paradise, are for authors by authors. These groups focus on improving your work. The people in them also have work that they want to improve, and you help them. This is a good approach. Writers, both your peers, and more experienced writers and editors, can help you improve your work markedly through their own publishing experiences.

The Maass workshop, on the other hand, reminded me of when I sat down with a client during the tech writing years. When preparing a technical piece, the writer would ask the client specifically what they hoped the document would do. What were the special requirements? What were the conventions and expectations of the parent organization? Maass was essentially breaking down into components what editors had asked him for, backed up by knowledge of what he knows sells well. He discussed how to create page turners, how to create micro-tension, how to work with voice. I felt like I received three days of instruction about the conventions of the publishing industry.

Nalo Hopkinson was also on hand. Maass and Hopkinson analyzed The New Moon’s Arms, focusing on the writing process and intentions, both conscious and subconscious. Also, Nalo ran through another revision process that writers can apply as they go through their work. And she is terrifically nice and accessible as well. And I still don’t think she looks like a Wisconsin hotel domestic. Too much facial hardware. Not enough polyester. 🙂

Would I recommend attending one of these workshops if it’s near you? Yes. While writing is creative, it’s important to figure out how to shape our work so that it’s compelling to editors. Maass’ take home message seemed to be that if you imbue your work with tension and personal struggle, it’s going to sell. Lots of newbie writers don’t do enough of that. Now, I have a clearer idea of what editors and agents are looking for, the minimal requirements, if you will.

One of the added bonuses of the workshop was getting to hang out with Viable Paradise buddy Matt Hughes. I am not jealous that he’s going to England in a few days. Nah, I have to sew a big black velvet cape next. Bastet’s going to love it.

More information about the Maass workshops can be found at the Free Expressions website. Note too their very cool Story Shaping Workshops, which look like a great deal of fun.

Maass’ newest book The Breakout Novelist, a compilation of his last three, is out. And of course, you can investigate the fine agents at The Maass Agency.


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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