The Madison Writers’ Studio, founded by local authors Susanna Daniel and Michelle Wildgen, wrapped up the first cohort of their Novel in a Year workshop in December. The experiment was a success, according to Daniel, who told a full house at Mystery to Me in December that she and Wildgen are looking forward to helping writers craft novels again this year.
“I have no doubt that I will see at least a handful of these novels on bookstore shelves,” Daniel said.
She and Wildgen created the studio in the summer of 2013 as a space to foster creativity by offering guidance and feedback not unlike an MFA program.
At the beginning of 2014, Daniel accepted eight students into the Novel in a Year class, and then Wildgen added a section with a limit of six students. Daniel’s class met monthly on Wednesday evenings for three hours; Wildgen’s class met on Saturday mornings.
According to Daniel, between sessions, the group exchanged support and encouragement — “some of it weary, some of it slap-happy, some of it truly inspiring” — and students emailed her individually for guidance.
Of the initial eight in Daniel’s class, six finished drafts of their novels by the end of the year. Most of the novels were about 275 to 325 pages; one was 450 and one was 550.
According to Daniel, the books “ranged in character and setting and genre — we had a psychoanalyst involved in a late-life psycho-sexual small town imbroglio; a young man struggling against forces of zealotry and small-mindedness in rural Wisconsin; a sharp-witted, incredibly vivid fantasy story told from the point of view of a young bard in love with a shape-changing and mysterious beauty who is affianced to a bear.”
At the reading in December, Daniel offered an introduction, calling the workshop “a resounding success.” She added, “every month, we sat at my dining room table until we were bleary and stuttering, and every single writer brought his or her A game.”
At this point, at least four of the workshop finishers are shopping their manuscripts to agents. Daniel and Wildgen are in the thick of another session of classes, with Daniel working with seven fiction writers and Wildgen with six memoir writers. In order to meet demand, the duo have added an intensive that will meet for four Mondays this spring, which is intended to arm each participant with 100 pages of a new novel or novella.
Daniel is already planning the 2016 Novel in a Year class, and the application is live on the website.
“We love this class,” Daniel said. “We couldn’t believe how well it worked.”
She and Wildgen both started their own novels when their 2014 students began writing, with mixed results.
“I can’t speak for Michelle,” said Daniel, the author of “Stiltsville” and “Sea Creatures,” “but I only have about 250 pages. I didn’t finish on par with my students.”