Inside Look with Marsha Mittman

We sat down with JJWWR18 alum, Marsha Mittman, to talk JJWWR, publication, and what she’s working on now.

Wow, Marsha – it looks like a lot has been going on since the retreat! Congrats on your recent publications! Tell us how your writing has changed or evolved since the retreat.

I find I’ve become more critical and objective – able to more clearly, rather than emotionally, assess my work, which is extremely important.

Can you tell us more about your experience at JJWWR?

I loved the intensity of the experience, found the participants personable and talented, and felt the leaders were dynamic and genuinely interested in our growth. The town itself is a creative vortex that literally helped supercharge output – as well as offer a respite, if needed. The live readings at the Arts Festival, at the end of the week, were a lot of fun.

How did your experience differ from other writing retreats you’d attended?

Others were larger, which I found distracting – they had so many activities. I greatly appreciated the free time at JJWWR so I could actually get some serious writing accomplished. I also found other retreats weren’t as specifically focused on individual participants’ writing. Having breakfast and lunch available helped maintain concentration – there was no need to run around looking for restaurants.

What lessons or practices from JJWWR have you applied to your writing?

I took away three very important points, which greatly helped with More, the spiritual manuscript I’m currently working on. First, don’t be married to what you’ve already written. Second, think carefully about where you’re placing flashbacks. Third, just write as the muse moves you – don’t worry about writing in “order.” Of course, I was guilty of all three, and they were blocking my progress!

Tell us more about your humorous memoir – when is it going to be available?

According to a competition judge, You Know You Moved to South Dakota from New York City WHEN… chronicles my “…wild west encounters with man, beast, the elements, and the supernatural” and is forthcoming from Scurfpea Publishing this winter. The book is unique in that a series of pithy quips separate the chapters. For example, You Know You Moved to South Dakota from New York City WHEN…a sixty year old man brings home a trophy and it’s a stuffed deer head, not a twenty-year-old wife.

It seems like a journey to film may be in your future – what are you finding most exciting about that prospect?

Actually, both film and theater are on the horizon. A documentary filmmaker working here in South Dakota has asked me to collaborate on three presentations for when her film premiers. The movie details a solo woman’s travels through the Midwest. I’ve travelled, mostly alone, to over 125 countries/islands on six continents, and 46 US states which has been the basis for a lot of my writing. These travels also led to the theater connection. Select poems from my chapbook, Patriarchal Chronicles: Women’s Worldwide Tears, are currently being crafted into a stage production. What I enjoy most about these projects is seeing my words morph from the page into something live and experienced by many.

Finally, what would you say to people considering the retreat?

Go with an open mind and no expectations. LISTEN and let the magic happen.


Inside Look with Lauren J. Sharkey

Lauren J. Sharkey sat down with the JJWWR blog to talk about her forthcoming novel, her recent publications, and how JJWWR made it all possible.

It appears congratulations are in order! Congratulations on your novel and your recent publications!

LJS: Thank you so much!

So, tell us about your recent publications. You’ve got a novel coming out and several nonfiction pieces out currently?

LJS. Yes, my debut novel INCONVENIENT DAUGHTER is forthcoming from Kaylie Jones Books in 2020, and I recently had a creative nonfiction piece, “Dear Adoption, I have questions for Biomom” published on Dear Adoption,. I’m also very excited to have another creative nonfiction essay, “What All Survivors Know”, included in Blind Faith Books’ I AM STRENGTH anthology, which will be out in August (2018).

I AM STRENGTH – I love that title. What’s unique about this collection?

LJS: All the poems, stories, and artwork are created by women championing women’s everyday struggles and triumphs. This collection is necessary, timely, and immensely powerful, and I’m so honored to have “What All Survivors Know” included.

What can you share with us about “What All Survivors Know”?

LJS: So, I had wanted to write this piece for a while, but I just couldn’t get my head there.

Can you elaborate on that?

LJS: Like every creative nonfiction piece, “What All Survivors Know” is deeply personal to me. When I was in college, I found myself in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship. And, aside from the abuse, the one thing I always find myself returning to are the times when my friends tried to get me out. I have this memory of them sitting me down in The Caf – that’s what we called the cafeteria back then – and telling me they were worried about me. I brushed them off, told myself they were jealous, and that I was fine. And I was fine…until I wasn’t.

I knew I had to get this piece down, but I just didn’t want to go back to that darkness. I was afraid it would swallow me up. But JJWWR changed everything.

How was JJWWR involved with the development of this piece?

LJS: Like I mentioned before, I was having difficulty getting into a place where I felt comfortable enough to go back to that trauma. But the day I started writing this piece, another JJWWR writer led our workshop in a deep, healing, and powerful meditation. When I finally came out of it, I felt energized and brave and ready to get this piece down on paper.

Unlike when I’m home, after workshop ended I was able to fine tune and hone in on the essence of this piece without outside distractions like work, school, and family. It’s not often I’m able to give my writing my complete and undivided attention, although I should be better about it.

What would you say to those considering JJWWR?

LJS: I’ve been to other writing retreats, but The James Jones Writers Workshop Retreat stands apart for three reasons: faculty, community, and location. The faculty at JJWWR is second to none. Not only do you get the opportunity to work with published writers, but they’re not just writers. The instructors are real people who truly care about making you the best writer you can be.

Secondly, we came into that house as strangers and left as friends. Everyone was kind and generous with their feedback, support, and encouragement. When it came time to check out, I was having intense separation anxiety because we really had formed a family. On the way home, I got that worry, you know? That fear that the connections I’d made wouldn’t survive outside of workshop. But I’m really happy to say that I keep in touch with a lot of the writers, and I know we’ll be lifelong friends.

What really separates JJWWR apart, though, is the location. When I told people I was going to Indiana, a lot of them did a double take and were like, “Why?” I’m from New York – you can get Chinese delivered at 3am, there’s a ton of coffee shops and bars within walking distance of my house, and my friends and family are all close by. Being cut off from all of that, I got an opportunity not only to reconnect with my work, but to reconnect with myself as a writer. Sometimes you need to go where the world gets quiet, and find your way back to what makes you tick.

Ready to begin writing your story? Sign up for updates and be the first to know when you can apply for JJWWR19!


SOP 101

We sat down with Advanced Writers Workshop instructors, Kaylie Jones and Judy Mandel, as well as #JJWWR18 intern, Lauren, to discuss the Statement of Purpose. Read what they had to say below:

What is an SOP?

KJ: A statement of purpose is a letter indicating your interest in writing and how you came to be a writer.

LS: When I was applying to MFA programs, all of my attention was focused on the writing sample. In fact, I think I actively avoided writing the statement of purpose because it’s kind of like a first impression, and I’m so awkward when I meet new people. That being said, I had immense difficulty with articulating exactly why I wanted to write, and why I wanted to attend these specific programs. So, for my SOP, I decided to approach it like a first date – I wanted to be interesting enough to get a second date, and honest enough so as not to misrepresent myself.

How long should an SOP be?

KJ: An SOP can be quite short if the information is pertinent and interesting – keep it as brief as you like!

JM: One page is sufficient.

Do you have any tips for writers looking to make their SOP stand out?

KJ: You can mention your favorite books and how they influenced you, as well as specific life experiences that pushed you to become a writer. What events made you decide it was important to share your work with the world? Keep in mind it is always best to be direct and specific in your examples.

JM: Include details about your personal writing journey, including a current project if applicable.

What are some things writers should definitely stay away from when writing an SOP?

KJ: Stay away from generalities and global statements. Your personal experience is what interests us.

JM: Don’t give an entire history of your education or experience. Keep it concise and relevant.

LS: I think one of the best things about JJWWR is that the program doesn’t give its applicants a laundry list of points to hit on or questions to answer. So, as lame as it sounds, just write your truth – about your reason for wanting to attend the retreat, about what’s stopping you from writing in your everyday life, about what you hope to get out of this time. Steer clear of trying to impress the instructors with big words – just be you.

What are you looking for in an SOP?

KJ: Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be interested in writing. Additionally, are you more interested in Memoir or Fiction? Why? Hearing about yourself, your process, and your writing history is helpful to us.

JM: For Advanced Writing: Evidence of a serious writer who sincerely wants to improve their craft.