Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA Residency: Communing With Book People

I was thrilled when the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts asked me to teach at their Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA Residency this August. They not only dangled the literary carrot of getting to hang out with other writers and characters who love writing and books, but they also enticed me with the setting of gorgeous Whidbey Island and the Captain Whidbey Inn. Now that the plot is thickening and the registration period is still open (until June 15th) I thought I'd lend my voice to help promote it by answering the five questions that Guest Faculty were given to answer.

1. What's your favorite thing about teaching writers?

Getting to check out their glasses and writing tools. No, seriously, I think my favorite thing about teaching writers is sharing a love of story. Stories are how we communicate and how we share our experiences, and though themes may be similar, we all bring something fresh to the table. 

2. How would you suggest students approach a writer, agent, or editor they admire? 

With dark chocolate, a glass of wine, and don't ask them to "help them get published." I am half-joking of course, but I wasn't joking about the "getting published" part. Students seem to want to put the cart before the horse, and not the art before the course! (I just made that up. The last part, that is.) Don't put the emphasis on being published. Approach writers, agents and editors as "someone who wants to learn." There is much you can glean from those who have been there and done that, but have a "beginners mind" and stay open and curious. There is no "one way" to get to your destination- there are many ways, so take a light-hearted approach and make friends with writers, agents and editors, but please don't force them to read your manuscript immediately, and don't tell them that it is "guaranteed to be a bestseller," or that your kids or grandkids loved it. 

3. How about a sneak peek of what we can expect to learn from you in your sessions at Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA?

I am teaching two workshop sessions. Here are the descriptions that I wrote for them:

“WRITING FRICTION: Why You Need Conflict in Children’s Books”

Children’s books, especially picture books seem deceptively simple. People want to know “how many can you write in one day?” (Can you hear me laughing?) In this workshop we will explore the need for conflict in children’s books and how you can increase the tension in order to create a page-turner for the grade school set. Bring a pencil and journal and your imagination as we brainstorm up some good “frictional” ideas.

“The 1st Person, The 2nd Person & The 3rd Person Walk Into a Book”

The 1st Person says, “I want to be the main character.”
The 2nd Person says, “You don’t have what it takes.”
The 3rd Person says, “They always make a mess of things.”

In this workshop we will discuss voice in children’s books.
We will be writing, and we will be talking!

4. Tell us what "literary community" means to you.

If you look at the sketch at the top of this post, you will see that I can sometimes take things literally. But the truth of the matter is that I love the world of books. Everything about books- from scheming up ideas to polishing them until they shine, to working with other writers and artists, to hanging out at bookstores and breathing in volumes of words and stories, to going to conferences and meeting like-minded individuals who all would rather be wearing sweats, sitting on their butts and making things up, to getting to know publishers, editors, agents, art directors, bookstore owners and clerks, teachers, librarians, to standing in the aisle at Office Max and imagining how each pen would feel touching the paper in my journal, to dreaming that one day my books would get published and I would share them with people around the world, to waking up and finding out that dream came true.

5. When not teaching or working at your "day job," you can be found...

(deep breath)... hunting for agates and other minerals, foraging for mushrooms and wild edibles, cooking everything from scratch, preserving and canning things I grow, taking long walks on the beach and writing in my head, working out with a body ball, taking care of two homes, my beloved husband, my sweet rescue cat, playing guitar and ukulele, dreaming of skiing next winter, kayaking around our Lummi Island waters, reading great books, wondering what I forgot to list here, and sleeping.

The MFA Residency includes a FREE POLAR BEAR PLUNGE in which we all jump into the lovely, refreshing waters of the Puget Sound. On a scale of 1 - 5, with 5 being the most likely, how likely are you to participate?


I hope that this has piqued your interest and that you will want to sign up for this incredible workshop- at very least to see me in the Salish Sea in my bathing suit.

With Love,


  1. We cannot wait to have you among us, Nina. We have so much to learn from you. Plus the plunge! Yay!

    1. Thank you so much for inviting me, Ana Maria- and I hope I won't disappoint in my teaching, and in the water.

  2. Rats, your post just complicated this NF student’s planning about which sessions to attend at the NILA residency! Your session descriptions sound valuable (and fun) for writers in any genre. Any tips on how to be 2 places at once? I also appreciate your post about Amazon; our online community has been having a spirited discussion about the company’s latest tactics, and your voice will be a good one to hear when we’re together in Aug. No surprise that someone who spoke up as you did is likely to join the Polar Bear Plunge on Whidbey!

    1. I wish I could solve that "2 places at once" dilemma. I have that problem all of the time. I do think that what I am teaching is not just for picture books- and I have employed it myself when writing the only novel (adult) I have written so far.

      Re: the Polar Bear Plunge: I happen to do this with some regularity in the summer at our cottage on Lummi Island. It certainly clears your head and takes your breath away.

  3. Nina, looking forward to seeing you this August. Loved your answers--especially the chocolates part.


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