Best-selling authors share their process and craft

Writers on Writing, an event hosted by the English department at Mount Mary University, brings authors to campus to talk about their successful work, challenges they overcame, and the craft they love.

Upcoming events:

Questions? Contact Debra Brenegan at or 414-930-3132. See campus map.

Writers on Writing: September 17, 2018: Dasha Kelly

Author Dasha KellyDasha Kelly is a writer, performer, social entrepreneur and carrot cake connoisseur.  As a poet and novelist, her writings have appeared in anthologies, text books, magazines and online. As a spoken word artist, she has performed throughout the U.S., in Canada, and has appeared on the final season of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam. As founder and director of an outreach initiative utilizing the transformative power of the written and spoken word, Kelly has performed and delivered workshops to writers, youth, educators, co-eds, executives, inmates and artists throughout the U.S. She is an alum of the iconic Squaw Valley Writers Community, the former writer-in-residence for the historic Pfister Hotel, and founder of Still Waters Collective, an arts education and community-building initiative. Kelly holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. In 2014, Kelly was selected as a U.S. Embassy Arts Envoy to teach and perform in Botswana, Africa. Dasha Kelly is the author of one chapbook, Hither, and four books: All Fall Down, Hershey Eats Peanuts, and Call It Forth and her novel,Almost Crimson. She lives in Milwaukee, WI.

Almost Crimson - Dasha KellyAbout Almost Crimson

“Two ways life consumes you, swallowed or swept away. One way happens to you, the other happens because of you. Love can go either way.” – Dasha Kelly

For as long as she can remember, CeCe has taken care of herself. With her father gone and her mother crippled by chronic depression, CeCe struggles to find fulfillment in the sacrifice required to keep their lives together. As her mother's condition worsens, CeCe is forced to stay close to home and stifle her dreams. With the poetic dexterity of Nikki Giovanni and an unforgettable cast of compassionate characters, Dasha Kelly examines one woman's struggle to choose between her obligation to care for her mother and living life on her own terms.


Writers on Writing: October 2, 2018: Kelly O'Connor McNees

Author Kelly O’Connor McNeesKelly O’Connor McNees is the author of Undiscovered Country, The Lost Summer of Louisa May AlcottThe Island of Doves, and In Need of a Good Wife, a finalist for the 2013 Willa Award. Her writing has appeared in The Washington PostThe Toast, and in Rust Belt Chicago: An Anthology. McNees is represented by Kate McKean of the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency. Born and raised in Michigan, McNees lives in Chicago with her family.

McNees also runs Word Bird Editorial Services, which helps writers of all stripes improve their craft and prepare their work for publication. She teaches workshops, and speaks at book clubs, libraries, and conferences around the country.


About Undiscovered Country:Undiscovered Country - Kelly O’Connor McNees

In 1932, New York City, top reporter Lorena “Hick” Hickok starts each day with a front page byline―and finishes it swigging bourbon and planning her next big scoop.

But an assignment to cover FDR’s campaign―and write a feature on his wife, Eleanor―turns Hick’s hard-won independent life on its ear. Soon her work, and the secret entanglement with the new first lady, will take her from New York and Washington to Scotts Run, West Virginia, where impoverished coal miners’ families wait in fear that the New Deal’s promised hope will pass them by. Together, Eleanor and Hick imagine how the new town of Arthurdale could change the fate of hundreds of lives. But doing what is right does not come cheap, and Hick will pay in ways she never could have imagined.

Undiscovered Country artfully mixes fact and fiction to portray the intense relationship between this unlikely pair. Inspired by the historical record, including the more than three thousand letters Hick and Eleanor exchanged over a span of thirty years, McNees tells this story through Hick’s tough, tender, and unforgettable voice. A remarkable portrait of Depression-era America, this novel tells the poignant story of how a love that was forced to remain hidden nevertheless changed history.


Writers on Writing: October 29, 2018: David Collins

Author David CollinsAfter earning a PhD in English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, David Collins taught English for forty years at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. He published more than fifteen scholarly essays, and his creative nonfiction essays appeared in The New Laurel Review, The Hawaii Review, The Chariton Review, PleiadesWell Versed, Interpretations, Uncertain Promise,The AWP Writer’s Chronicle, Belles Lettres, and St. Louis Magazine, among others.

A chapter from the manuscript for Accidental Activists: Mark Phariss, Vic Holmes, and Their Fight for Marriage Equality in Texas won first place at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. Accidental Activists was published by the University of North Texas Press in August 2017. It has been chosen as a finalist for an INDIES ‘Best Book” Award.

Most recently, Collins edited a collection short fiction and creative nonfiction for the Compass Flower Press. Collins is working now on two long-term projects: a book-length series of walking tours of literary Paris tentatively titled Parisian Places, American Faces: Walks on the Left Bank with American Writers,and an as yet untitled novel set in Paris that culminates on the July day in 1995 when a bomb exploded in the métro near the Place St. Michel.


 About Accidental Activists:Accidental Activists - David Collins

At the beginning of the summer of 2013, same-sex marriage was legal in only ten states and the District of Columbia. In Texas, Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes, together for sixteen years and deeply in love, wondered why no one had stepped across the threshold to challenge their state’s 2005 constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage—until, that is, despite years of conditioning that had taught them to keep a low profile, despite warnings from family and friends who feared for their safety, they joined with a lesbian couple to sue for the right to marry in one of the nation’s reddest states.

Two years later—after tense battles in the Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas and in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, after sitting through oral arguments at the Supreme Court of the United States in Obergefell v. Hodges—they married in their home state, surrounded by almost 400 relatives and friends as ecstatic as they.

Around the intimate story of two men in love that lies at its center, Accidental Activists weaves other threads that enrich its fabric, setting what is personal in the context of legal and social history—the battle for gay rights in general and marriage equality in particular—and explaining the complex legal issues and developments surrounding same-sex marriage in layman’s terms.


Writers on Writing: Monday, February 11, 2019: Liam Callanan

Author Liam CallananLiam Callanan is the winner of the 2017 George W. Hunt, SJ Prize in Arts, Letters & Journalism. He's the author of The Cloud AtlasAll SaintsListen, and his latest novel, Paris by the Book.  Callanan’s work has been or will be translated into Chinese, German, Italian, and Japanese.

He serves in the English department of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and was previously its chair, as well as coordinator of its Ph.D. program in creative writing. He has regularly contributed to local and national public radio, the Wall Street JournalThe AwlMedium,  Commonweal,,  Slate, the New York Times Book Review, the Times op-ed page, the Washington Post Magazine,San Francisco Chronicle, Forbes FYIGood Housekeeping, ParentsMilwaukee MagazineBrain,Child and elsewhere. 

His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in a variety of literary journals, including Gulf Coast, the New Haven ReviewTinge (where his story was named one of the Millions Writers Award Notable Stories of 2011 by storySouth), the Writers ChronicleBlackbird, Crab Orchard Review, Southern Indiana Review, Caketrain, failbetter, and Phoebe. Callanan is also the creator and co-executive producer of the Poetry Everywhere animated film series.

About Paris by the Book:  Paris by the Book

When writer Robert Eady vanishes, he leaves behind his wife, Leah, two daughters, and a mysterious manuscript set in Paris. Hoping to find clues—or her husband—Leah and the children set off for France, where they take over a failing bookstore and trace the Parisian paths of some childhood classics (Madeline and The Red Balloon have prominent cameos) only to discover that Robert may—or may not—be closer than anyone might have imagined. Part mystery, part love story, part paean to Paris, Paris by the Book is, in the words of Publishers Weekly, "sublime."


Writers on Writing: Thursday, April 11, 2019: Tom Matthews and Scott Winkler

Author Tom MatthewsTom Matthews wrote the Costa-Gavras film “Mad City,” starring Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta. His satirical novel Like We Care was published in 2004 to great acclaim. As a journalist, feature writer, and social commentator, his work has appeared in publications across the country. His writing for Milwaukee Magazine earned him Wisconsin’s highest press honors for long form feature writing in 2013 and 2014. His new novel, Raising the Dad, is getting rave reviews.

About Raising the Dad:  Raising the Dad

In Raising the Dad, the dysfunction in John Husted’s family is vexing enough: His marriage has slipped into a state of passionless functionality. His teenage daughter is growing distant and mean. His older brother―a washed-up heavy-metal singer―is fresh out of jail, and their mother may be slipping away to dementia. Things just seemed to veer off course since the death of the family patriarch many years earlier.

But then John is stunned to learn that his father’s fate was not what he had long believed it to be. It falls upon John to decide if he should break the news to his family, knowing that the truth could make the family whole – or smash it to pieces.


About Scott Winkler:

Author Scott WinklerIn addition to being an author, Scott Winkler is a husband and father, a teacher and scholar, and a concerned citizen of a nation yet to achieve its potential. He is a graduate of St. Norbert College, and he earned both his MA and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Winkler's work, both creative and academic, has appeared in a variety of publications ranging from The Journal of Popular Culture and Aethlon to Elysian Fields Quarterly and Peninsula Pulse, among others. His first book, The Wide Turn Toward Home, was published in 2008. Winkler and his family live in rural Wisconsin.

About The Meadow: The Meadow

The Meadow is Scott A. Winkler’s debut novel. Set in rural, Mid-America in 1968, the book’s main character, Walter Neumann, is torn between two visions for his future: his own, which finds him attending college and pursuing a scholarly life, and his father Otto’s, which envisions Walt serving in Vietnam as Otto had served in World War II. An unexpected accident allows Walt to follow his dream, but his relief is temporary as long-hidden family secrets come to light, threatening to shatter the world as Walt knows it.

The Meadow is a novel of love, sacrifice, and service set in America’s heartland, but the questions and answers it poses and explores are timeless and universal, transcending history and culture with an urgency poignantly captured by Winkler’s lyrical, energetic prose as Walt struggles to reconcile truths he’s known his entire life with new truths necessary to his, his family’s, his community’s, and his nation’s survival.