Pour your life into your work at Weekend with Your Novel

What’s the difference between truth and fiction? It’s a fine line that writers will explore in Weekend with Your Novel on Nov. 4-6.

Every year, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s retreat features an expert staff of writers, editors, and teachers who help participants start or fine-tune their novels. This year’s theme is “Your Novel and Your Life,” emphasizing the connection between what happens in a novelist’s real life and what ends up on the page. Speakers include Agate Nesaule, Jessica Lourey, and Matthew J. Hefti, who have all channeled intense personal experiences in their fiction.

“Everything we write is some combination of experience and imagination,” says Christopher Chambers, director of Weekend with Your Novel. “This program will help people learn how to skillfully blend the two.”

Different paths to success

Weekend with Your Novel features 15 sessions at the UW Pyle Center, including “Mystery, Suspense, and Dramatic Irony,” “Making a Scene,” “Creating Your Brand as a Novelist,” and “Basing Your Novel on Real Life.” There are also six optional manuscript critique workshops.

Author Jessica Lourey will lay out 'A 7-Step Process for Writing an Experience-Based Novel.'
Mystery writer Jessica Lourey will lay out ‘A 7-Step Process for Writing an Experience-Based Novel.’

In her keynote address, Nesaule will delve into the theme of real life vs. fiction in a discussion of her novel In Love with Jerzy Kosinkski and her memoir A Woman in Amber. Hefti, author of the autobiographical Iraq War novel A Hard and Heavy Thing, will explain “What We Talk About When We Talk About Cliches.” And Lourey, author of the Murder-by-Month Mysteries, will lay out “A 7-Step Process for Writing an Experience-Based Novel.”

Among the other published novelists on staff are Christine DeSmet (Fudge Shop Mystery Series), Ian Graham Leask (House of Large Sizes), and Kristin Oakley (God on Mayhem Street).

Novelist Matthew Hefti will explain 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Cliches.'
Novelist Matthew Hefti will explain ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Cliches.’

“One of the great things about this event is that it brings together so many authors who can talk about how they achieved success,” Chambers says. “It was a different path for each of them, and participants can see that there’s more than one way to get it done.”

Previous participants in Weekend with Your Novel have found their own paths to success. Among alumni who’ve published books are D.B. Kennison (Still Life), JZ Howard (All of Me Wants All of You), and Mary Hughes (Biting Nixie).

Joining a literary community

Weekend with Your Novel has multiple tracks to accommodate both beginning and experienced writers, along with people who merely love to read novels and want to learn more about how they’re put together. This year’s program has expanded to include sessions on Friday along with the traditional Friday keynote speech.

Chambers notes that, for all the serious instruction, Weekend with Your Novel will be an intimate and friendly event. It offers a Friday reception, a Saturday lunch, and a chance to have dinner with fellow attendees around town on Saturday night. Along with learning new skills, writers can feel part of a literary community.

“At the start of National Novel Writing Month, it’s an opportunity to come together with other writers and talk about what we’re doing,” Chambers says. “Writing is a solitary activity, a writer alone with the blank page and empty screen, and because of that it’s important that writers occasionally get out of their rooms and come together for events like Weekend with your novel, which are affirming, energizing, and motivating.”

To register for Weekend with Your Novel, see here. For more information, contact Christopher Chambers, christopher.chambers@wisc.edu, 608-262-5095.