Writers gather

Stephanie Vallez · Tuesday, November 7, 2017
The West Liberty Public Library was host to 12 writers from Iowa and Illinois on Saturday, Nov. 4, during the 4th Annual Book Bums Writers’ Workshop.

The workshop is organized by local author and 2015 Chanticleer Paranormal contest winner Karen Musser Nortman, who is best known for her “Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries” and more recently “The Time Travel Trailer.”

Nortman and 11 other area writers came together last weekend to lead workshops on topics like setting, revising and marketing.

“The event started four years ago because some residents told then library director, Jeanette McMahon, that they would like to know more about self-publishing,” Nortman said.

What makes the West Liberty workshop truly special is that the authors who share their wisdom are doing so free of charge to the community.

“We have no funding and no one gets paid--not even travel,” she revealed, “That's why we do the little book sale in hopes that people can make some of their gas money back. The library covers the cost of utilities and refreshments.”

All 12 presenters have published at least one book, some are self-published and some were published through traditional publishing houses.

Among the authors at this year’s event, one can find multiple award winners and a variety of styles, genres and subject matter.

“We try and have a good representation of genres. This year we had writers of mystery, romance, fantasy, historical fiction, memoir and children's books,” Nortman said.

It’s obvious that variety is an important factor in choosing the presenters.

Topics range from Elaine Orr’s cozy mysteries to Dylan Moonfire’s anime-inspired fantasy novels to Teresa LaBella’s culinary romance novel and husband John LaBella’s accompanying cookbook.

John was willing to share a little secret about the chocolate chip cookie recipe in his book.

“You can spread it on a pizza pan, and give it about 30 minutes in the oven,” he said in his smiling, British voice. “You have to cut it into pizza wedges while it’s still warm.”

Roger Hileman and Dave Hoing, who write historical fiction, lead a workshop on collaborative writing, along with Mary Jedlicka Humston, whose novel “Mary & Me” details a friendship through decades of letter writing, a novel inspired by her relationship with pen pal and co-author Mary Potter Kenyon.

Misty Urban, a Muscatine author and winner of Muscatine County Arts Council’s 2016 Wandering Words Contest and of this year’s Great River Writer’s Retreat Award, was a presenter for the workshop on polishing a manuscript for agents and editors.

Her advice to aspiring writers: “Don’t stop writing. Don’t let anyone stop you. Write every day. Only you can tell the story you have to tell.”

Other featured authors included Mary Howard of Ames, winner of last year’s Great River Writer’s Retreat Award, and Debra R. Barry, an educator from Marion who writes for children and pre-teens.

Jodie Toohey was there to help workshop attendees with revision, and while she does have several books to promote, she is sharing her Wordsy Woman Author Services to help aspiring writers improve their skills and reach their goals.

“I help people from pre-idea to reader,” she said, “I give advice on the craft, but I also offer editing services, consultations and marketing.”

“Attendees this year were from West Liberty, Nichols and Muscatine, as well as other surrounding towns,” Nortman said.  “We have had students in the past and would like to attract more young writers. We generally get from 20 to 30 people.”

Unlike other writers’ workshops in the area, ours has at least one completely unique quality that attracts published writers and aspiring authors from the surrounding area.

“Most workshops charge,” Karen Musser Nortman said, “some in Iowa City and the Midwest Writing Center are several hundred dollars, and we wanted to provide a chance for writers to get together and share experiences and ideas at no cost. Attendees seem to be very satisfied with the results.”
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